By Jeff Strange
For Coach Bill Heard’s Nebraska Gold 16u National team, the summer of 2023 was filled with many jubilant moments, en route to an overall record of 49-10-2. Highlights for the summer included:
- A championship performance at the Top Club Spring Invite (7-0)
- A third place finish in the Nikki G Classic while playing up in the 18U division
- 5-1 in the Top Gun Invitational (Sunday was rained out)
- World Fastpitch Champions (10-0)
Those performances alone cemented a strong showing for this NE Gold squad. Nonetheless, Coach Heard believes that it was his team’s performance at the Colorado Sparkler last summer that really defined this groups’ season.
“With the Sparkler being such a big event, we truly didn’t know what to expect,” said Coach Heard. “As a 15U team, we were not given a berth to the power pools; we had to earn it. We went 3-1 in our supplemental pool and moved our way up to the power pools. We lost to a very good Hot Shots National team on Friday evening. However, we were able to pull out three wins on Saturday against very high-level competition (Rogue FC, Aces and VA Glory National) to get to Sunday. All of our kids contributed to this run and allowed us to compete at the highest level.”
That showing led to a Top 8 Finish at the Sparkler and asserted this squad as a top contender on the national stage going into 2024.
Top Gun Events Media caught up with Coach Heard to get his feedback on several key elements for his Nebraska Gold 16u National squad’s 2024 season and beyond:
Can you give some background information on your coaching staff and coaching styles?
“Myself – Bill Heard. I am the head coach at Gretna High School in Gretna, NE. I have been coaching this team from the very beginning (7U).
Chad Perkins – Head Coach, Omaha Marian High School, Omaha, NE. Chad joined the coaching staff last year. He has coached multiple Nebraska Gold teams over the years, including the 2020 Nebraska Gold 18 U, which was a highly successful team.
Jess Waller – Assistant Coach. Jesse joined the team last year. Jesse has been a coach in the Nebraska Gold and Nemesis organizations in Nebraska from the time this group began playing softball.
McKenna Nixon – Assistant Coach, Assistant Coach Gretna High School, Gretna, NE. McKenna has been coaching this team for the past three summers.
Our coaching style/philosophy is to place our trust in our players. We rotate our players throughout events. Our belief is that each player on our roster has the ability to compete and help us. The true strength of our team is our depth and ability to continually grind away throughout tournaments.”
Drawing athletes from multiple states, how do you manage any challenges with schedules?
“We have athletes from three states, which can be challenging at times. The reality of our situation is that we are unique for the level of competition we play at. Most teams we are seeing are drawing players from all over the country. We have one player from South Dakota and two from Colorado. We have seven players from the same high school and three more who live very close to each other. Long story short, our model is different from other teams; we have to make the most of the roster we have and max out every player.”
What are your primary goals and objectives for your team?
“Our goals are unique. We do not talk about winning and losing; we focus on being great teammates and being great competitors. Ultimately, we feel that winning and losing is a byproduct of the way we do things. We want each player to max out their abilities, so we constantly provide them opportunities. With the level of competition we play and the constant opportunities, the recruiting piece tends to take care of itself.”
In your opinion, what traits make your organization unique?
“We have strong leadership (Larry Swift), a tradition of success that creates an expectation for kids at a young age and foundation that allows for this to continue for years to come (Gold DNA). With all of that said, I think our organization is unique because it places doing what’s right for kids ahead of all other decisions.”
Can you give some analysis/perspective on your team for 2024?
“We return our entire team from last year, in addition to two new players we have picked up. If we can stay healthy, we should be very competitive.
- Alexis Jensen (UNL Commit)
- Jayd Juarez (2026)
- CJ Morgan (2205)
- Caitlyn Semple (2025)
Our staff should be strong this year. More depth than we have ever had. All of our pitchers will draw lots of college interest this spring.
- Carlie Muhlbach (UNL Commit)
- Brylee Rupiper (2025).
Brylee and Carlie give us a great combination behind the plate. Brylee is receiving considerable Division 1 interest as well.
- Emersyn Exner (2026)
- Emerson Johnson (2026)
- Makenna Harrington (2025)
- Megan Marshall (2026)
- Autumn Bryant (2026)
This is a strong and versatile group. Each can play multiple positions, which allows us to have lots of lineup flexibility. Lots of college interest in this group as well.
- Anniston Trevarrow (2025)
- Brylee Heard (2026)
- Raina Waller (2026).
Our outfield play is one of our strengths. All three can more than carry themselves at the plate and will garner college interest this spring. Multiple infielders will also spend time in the outfield for us this spring.”
What are your short-term goals for your team?
“We hope to be competitive in every event we attend this year. Our schedule will be very demanding and will challenge our depth, toughness and preparation.”
What are your long-term goals for your team?
“We would like to see all of our kids playing at the collegiate level and enjoying their experience. Long term, the hope is that softball can provide some lessons that kids can use the real world starts.”