2024 Travel Team Preview: Select Fastpitch 18’s Jones/Byrn Looks to Add to Tradition of Success in 2024

By Jeff Strange

In the fall of 2023, Select Fastpitch brought together remaining athletes from three teams in the organization (Select 18’s Jones/Byrn, Select 18’s Alvarado and Select 16’s Salazar, whose team placed as a finalist in the PGF Premier National Championship) to create the 2023/2024 Select 18’s Jones/Byrn squad.

Success was immediate in the fall, as the newly formed team brought home third place at the Scenic City Top 25 tournament, suffering a lone loss in a hard fought battle to the Arizona Storm.

Top Gun Events Media caught up with Coach Eric Jones 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?

“I love our coaching staff this year! Myself and Mike Byrn are co-head Coaches again this year, which is a blessing to have someone of Mike’s caliber alongside us. Jason Salazar is also on staff; he was the Head Coach for the 16’s last year who had an amazing year, making a big run at the PGF Premier National Championships, knocking off some of the top teams in the country to get there. Brandon Washington is also on staff and handles our in game stats for us.”

Drawing athletes from multiple states, how do you manage any challenges with schedules?

“This team is composed of athletes from Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, and Illinois. Having athletes from different states does pose some challenges at times, but we navigate it pretty well.  We do carry a bigger roster, which helps with athletes that have high school softball seasons at different times of the year. We have practice pods in St Louis, Columbia (MO) and Kansas City, which offer varieties of locations and opportunities to get work in.”

What are your primary goals and objectives for your team?

“Our objective this year is to mesh this team into one unit by June. It is awesome to have amazing athletes, and on that alone they can win some games. However, to reach the goals that they all have – and try to finish what they started last year – will take all of them and we hope that they are able to mesh into that team that we know they are capable of. Our second goal is to continue to develop and prepare them for the next level, mentally and physically. We want them to be in positions to compete for starting roles when they head off to their colleges.”

In your opinion, what traits make your organization unique?

“The trait of our organization is to be a blue collar, hardworking organization where there’s no entitlement or selfishness. We pride ourselves on being overlooked by some of the bigger organizations and feed off that energy. We’ve always had athletes that are grinders and play the game for the right reason.”

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

“Our depth in the circle is unmatched, and anchored with some of the best pitchers in the Midwest and nation. Our athleticism up the middle is very good; I think this could be one of the best overall defenses that we have ever had. This year our team is led by some returning seniors, as well as some of the Top 2025’s around.

In the circle, we have a wealth of depth and talent that we feel comfortable with any of them being in a big game situation. Peyton Hardenburger (Tennessee), Kaelee Washington (Kansas), Abby Carr (Arizona State), Kelsey Hoekstra (Rutgers), Ryann Sanders (Louisville) and Bre Severino (Ball State) are all top flight pitchers and will have a big impact for us this year. With the grind of the schedule, it will allow us to keep some pitch count and innings low throughout the summer, so we can go into Nationals healthy. More importantly, the seniors can go into college and not have arm burnout.  

Behind the plate, we have Bailey Amezcua (Kansas) who can also play anywhere on the field, and is a big bat in our lineup.

Our infield is comprised of some legit athletes who can also cause damage at the plate. Led by Madison Uptegrove (Missouri), Marin Heller (Florida State), Siena Snyder (Ohio State), Kendall Yarnell (UCF), and Cydney Fullerton our infield is very deep with an ability to hit for power in any count.”

What are your long-term goals for your team?

“Our goal beyond the 2024 season is to keep developing and putting ourselves into positions to play the best competition out there. We want to see where we are at so we can prepare for great tournament runs in the summer. Fall, winter and spring for the most part for us is just development and growth. The summer is where we like to put it all together. We also strive to help our athletes go to their high school teams and have fun and shine amongst their school peers as well.”

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