By: Jeff Strange

June 16, 2023. The Nebraska Gold ’09 National team was gearing up for a high-profile contest while playing in the prestigious Top Gun Invite in Kansas City. They had drawn a power-packed Texas Riptide 14u squad. According to Larry Swift, the current coach of the NE Gold ’09 National team, the Riptide’s roster was loaded with eye-catching athletes.

“Everyone on that team, including their starting pitcher, looked the part,” said Swift. “They could swing it and they could throw it.”

The anticipation caught the attention of the ballpark as well. With roughly 200-300 people in the crowd watching – from parents and friends to entire teams in the facility – the expectation of a highly entertaining game was alive and well as the venue was buzzing with excitement.

The game started with a weak ground ball by Nebraska Gold, securing the first out for the Riptide and driving the eager and enthusiastic Texas fans into a frenzy. However, despite a 2-1 disadvantage at the end of the 1st inning, Nebraska Gold ’09 National kept plugging along, picking up a run in every inning. NE Gold’s starting pitcher, Taelyn Rupiper settled in the circle and scattered three runs over 6 innings. NE Gold won 9-3 and drew the attention of seemingly everyone as they left the facility.

It was games like these that helped the athletes and team grow together. As a first year 14u team last summer, this skilled squad was often pitted against older competition, challenging them to test their talents.

July1, 2023. Nebraska Gold ’09 National suffered a “less than flattering 12-3 defeat” to the 16u Finesse Frank team at the Top Gun Patriot in Peoria, Illinois. However, they came back on Sunday and outscored two 16u teams 19-5 through a series of balls hit in the gaps and well-placed bunts put down the line. The NE Gold coaching staff believes that their athletes were at their best at that point and ready to compete with anyone, until the rains came and washed out the event.

Carrying that momentum into their last weekend of the summer, Nebraska Gold ’09 National played up in an 18u tourney in Nebraska (as a 13u team). They went 8-1 on the weekend, winning the event. In the process of taking home the hardwire, NE Gold pulled off 6 consecutive wins on Sunday with 15 over the fence home runs. All toll, they concluded their championship run near midnight on Sunday.

Now, looking into 2024 Coach Larry Swift and his Nebraska Gold ’09 National squad are eyeing another season of challenges and success. Top Gun Events Media caught up with Coach Swift to get his feedback on several key elements for his team’s 2024 season:

Can you give some background information on your coaching staff and coaching styles?

“Each of our coaches brings a unique perspective to the Nebraska Gold ‘09 National team. Mitch Kampbell and Nick Beard have five players on this squad they have coached since the girls were 7 years old. Day-to-day work and focus are their best-selling points. This is Jeff Kurrus’ third year with the program, with team culture and everyday enjoyment of the process being his forte. Joining the staff this year, Lexi Swift offers something the other coaches can’t – a female’s perspective as both a coach and a former college player. And program director Larry Swift’s role is multifaceted. He has been a coach in the dugout when his Nebraska Gold teams have won at the highest possible level as 18-year-olds, which allows him to bring that perspective to this 14-year-old group and show them what it will take for them to get to that level.”

Does your team face any challenges with schedules (drawing athletes from multiple states, perhaps)? If yes, how do you manage that?

“Each of our players are from the Omaha or Lincoln areas, except for one that travels from Grand Island, Nebraska – nearly two hours away. So, our practice and game scheduling runs relatively smoothly, besides the times when we have an injury or family event that prevents a particular player from participating. When this occurs, we reach out to a select group of players from Nebraska and surrounding states who we have formed bonds with, and they play with us that particular weekend. For example, our girls love when their South Dakota or Missouri friends play with them as a substitute for a tournament. This also provides them more exposure to kids they’ll get to know later in high school and even into college, making those transitions easier for them.”

What are your primary goals and objectives for your team?

“We have a multitude of goals for this team. First, we want to continue to prepare these athletes for their transitions through or into high school ball for their respective schools. For example, we had 9 girls who were freshmen this past fall, at 6 different high schools. All 9 made significant contributions to their high school varsity teams, with three of them receiving All-State accolades and 6 making the state Tournament semi-finals or finals. We want the same results for our other 3 incoming freshmen this year. Second, we want to prepare them for the college game. In addition, their individual work and team work is accomplished by their interactions and workouts with NE Gold players already in college. For example, recently several current college playing alumni, including Ruby Meylan, who was a University of Washington’s starting pitcher in last season’s College World Series, pitched to our players and took at-bats vs our pitchers. Once our girls see someone of their skill levels, they are ready for anything. Third, on the field as a team the girls have set a goal to be in the Final Four for every tournament they play this year. With this goal, they will always have the mindset to win every tournament. Fourth, our hitters want to compete in every at bat, so they’re working to have a QAB rate of 70%. It takes out batting averages and on-base percentages to create a more defined role at the plate – how well did you compete.”

In your opinion, what traits make your organization unique?

“First and foremost, we pride ourselves on our Gold DNA pillars. The pillars are: Toughness, Discipline, Workers Always Win, Masters of Appreciation and Not About You. These pillars are followed by all the coaches and players in the organization. We have weekly sessions with both players and coaches reviewing these and understanding how we make the organization much better. It is the open-door policy of players working with players of all ages. It is not uncommon before a practice to get a phone call from a girl from another Gold team who wants to work out with your team that day. Or to walk into one of our indoor facilities or outdoor complexes and see a very accomplished player from one of our older groups working with a younger player.

Second, the Gold program is always striving to find the right fit for a kid. If a particular kid’s current skill level dictates that she needs to be on another team, then steps are made to create this proper fit for all parties.

Lastly, Nebraska Gold’s desire to bring in kids outside of our program who contact them allows the program to share its purpose for its individual players and teams. This open-door policy once again allows Nebraska Gold to focus on fit for each individual player.”

Can you give some analysis/perspective on your team for 2024?

“In 2024, the Nebraska Gold 09’ team will be able to compete against any 09’ team in the country. Eight of our 12 players have already left the yard at some point during the 2023 year, and it’s only a matter of time for the others. We boast great team speed and athleticism throughout the line-up. Our pitching staff is led by two girls who throw 60+ and will command the zone. Here’s our crew in a nutshell:

  • Dylan Glatter – the best receiving 09’ catcher we’ve seen. Cat-quick defensively and a combination of power and finesse at the plate.
  • Hayden Peters – slapper/outfielder whose tremendous speed can take over an entire tournament on both sides of the ball.
  • Tenley Kampbell – First baseman/pitcher whose homerun balls, quite often, never get 20 feet off the ground. Amazing power. In the circle, continues to beat some of the best teams we face by relying on control and movement.
  • Taelyn Rupiper – Our Ace in the circle, she throws 60+ MPH whose best pitches are her riseball and change-up. Her ceiling is extremely high, and she continues to get the ball in our biggest games with no fear of failing.
  • Becca Dinkelman – Also tops out in the low 60s in the circle, but Becca’s most impressive attribute is her raw power. Though small in stature, she remains the kid most likely to hit a ball halfway up the light pole.
  • Mallory Closman – She has the entire package. Crazy athlete with speed and power. Mal immediately jumps off the page as soon as you see her warm up between innings.
  • Maddie Kurrus – With only two errors from the 2nd base position the entire 2023 summer, our most reliable fielder. Has also led the team for multiple years in HBPs and BBs with her “by any means necessary” mentality.
  • Abby Beard – Our best all-around hitter. Squares up more balls hard than anyone we have, and can fit anywhere in the lineup she’s needed, from a leave-the-yard send a message leadoff to a run producer in the 4-hole.
  • Kaylin Hinerman – A converted swingaway kid from a slapper, Kay will garner a ton of attention this summer because of her size and strength.
  • Lily Johnson – An absolute athlete. Scarred, bloody, ready for more. This is Lily after a weekend tournament. The ultimate competitor with an absolute cannon for an arm.
  • Brooklyn Phelphes – Another cannon, this time from the centerfield position, this former slapper will also boast a rare combination of speed and power this season. From a defensive standpoint, she covers ground like crazy.
  • Kinley Nixon – A newcomer to our team but will play 8 positions for us. Fearless at the plate and able to bunt and run, Kinley readily fills in every hole this team needs on both sides of the ball.

What are your short-term goals for your team?

“As stated before, the girls want to be competing for championships every weekend, with a Top 4 finish in every tournament, regardless of the competition, is one of their goals.”

What are your long-term goals for your team?

“To have an even larger factor for their high school teams and work toward achieving their own goals in high school and beyond, both inside and outside of softball.”

*Editors Note: Article updated February 7, 2024 to reflect that Larry Swift did not coach the team in 2023*

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