College 2024 Preview: Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville Looks to Build Upon Successful finish to 2023 Campaign

College 2024 Preview: Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville Looks to Build Upon Successful finish to 2023 Campaign

By Jeff Strange

2023 Overall Record                                     2023 Ohio Valley Conference Record

                        30-26                                                                           12-10

Coming off a 30-26 season, the Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville softball team heads into the 2024 campaign with high hopes of contending for another strong run in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Cougars caught fire in the OVC tournament last spring held at Choccolocco Park in Oxford, AL by closing out the event with a 4-2 record and bringing home second place overall, falling short to Eastern Illinois University in the OVC Championship game.

Head coach Ben Sorden enters his second season at the helm for the Cougars program, taking over after spending nearly the last decade as an assistant coach in the Big Ten Conference at Michigan State and Indiana, where he helped guide the pitching staffs to national honors and top-notch results.

Top Gun Events Media caught up with Coach Sorden to get his feedback on several key elements for the SIUE Cougars Softball Program:

Last season was your first at the helm with SIUE…how would you describe your experience taking over the program?

“I knew coming in, the focus was going to be on culture; we as a coaching staff had to get them to believe in themselves and trust each other, as well as trust us. Of course, there was initial excitement and skepticism, but eventually we gained their trust, but most importantly, they began to trust themselves.”

After spending the previous several seasons as an assistant coach at Michigan State and U. of Indiana, were there any adjustments on your end moving into the role of a head coach?

“The game is the game, we don’t adjust our standards. Our job is to coach them up to the standard to the best of our ability. Sure, MSU and IU may have more resources, but I also spent a significant amount of time at Coe College, a small DIII school. I have witnessed the haves and the have nots – you learn what is important and what is fluff. We are blessed to have amazing training and playing facilities at SIUE, outstanding athletic performance coaches, a mental performance advisor, excellent student-athlete support services and a beautiful campus that sells itself.”

The SIUE Cougars come together after a come-from-behind victory against St. Louis University in March 8, 2023

You have a strong reputation for churning out successful pitching staffs and developing pitchers…are there any particular approaches that you have developed to help aid in the success of arms on teams that you have been a part of?

“I’m a believer in being a master of few rather than mediocre of many when it comes to pitching. If the game is on the line, do you want to attack the hitter with your best pitch or your fourth best pitch? Everyone has a unique ability and we just try to find what each of us does well and polish that up. Additionally, I empower the pitchers to have control in what they are throwing. They learn to read swings, they learn to read situations, and they know what they want to throw in the moment. We also look to our catchers for valuable information; they make us better. Our catchers are our eyes and know what pitches are moving the best as well as what the umpire is calling. In the end, we just try and help them be the best version of themselves.”

Can you give some background information on your coaching staff?

“I’ve known Coach Courtney Gentile for a number of years. She played at Ohio State and has a very competitive spirit. She was a hitter that pitched (rather than a pitcher that hits) and also played outfield and first base for the Buckeyes. She is even able to throw left-handed batting practice! Courtney works with our hitters and our outfield.

Caitlin Wnek was added to the staff this fall; she was previously an assistant at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. I have known Caitlin since she was in high school and then followed her career when she went on to be a 4-year starting shortstop at UNI, where she holds the career doubles record for the Panthers. She works with our infielders and hitters. She keeps the game fun and likes to come up with competitive challenges for our hitters and fielders. Most recently, Caitlin was named the DIII Assistant Coach of the Year by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association while at UW-LaCrosse.”

Can you hit on some key points/highlights from this past season?

“As a team, we were 2nd in the league in hitting and led the league in shut outs, stolen bases and strikeouts looking. Before conference, we had a good weekend in Memphis where things started to click for us, then a nice come from behind win against SLU, which taught us we were never out of any game. We then tried to just keep building confidence week by week and building momentum.

I am extremely proud that 11 of the 19 players were named NFCA All American Scholar Athletes. We emphasize excelling on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Being a champion starts with a championship mindset and that is doing everything to the best of our ability in all facets of our life.

Individually, Paige Rocha paced the league hitting .416 overall and .434 in conference. For her efforts, she was named All Region and All Conference. She is back and we are excited for her leadership. Lexi King was 2nd in the league in hitting, led the OVC in stolen bases and was 7th in the country in doubles. She is one of the most competitive players I have ever coached; we will obviously miss her. Syd Baalman was also an All-Conference selection and really got hot in the circle for us last season. She grew from a thrower to a pitcher during the season and peaked at the conference tournament. Grace Lueke is also back for her senior campaign after hitting .315 in conference with 6 homeruns. We look forward to her leadership this year.”

Senior Pitcher Sydney Baalman (top) and Junior Infielder Paige Rocha (bottom) are two key returning pieces to the Cougars roster in 2024

Taking home a second-place finish in the OVC tournament last season, can you describe some of your thoughts on the event?

“We had a great run in Oxford; it was a nice facility and the field crew was great, they did a great job with the venue. It was a competitive tournament and I enjoyed how we competed. It was a great tournament to build momentum for our program.”

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

“Returners Rylie Pindel, Piper Montgomery, Lauryn Yslava and Jenny Herron have really upped their game and had significant contributions this fall. Kelsey Ray continues to improve and her senior leadership will be key in the circle.

We brought in 11 new faces this year – 5 transfers and 6 freshmen. Sisters Anna and Emma Henderson transferred in from the University of Iowa and will add power at the plate and experience in the circle and behind the dish. A pair of DMACC Bears, NJCAA All American third baseman Madison Kearns and NJCAA All Region shortstop Kaylynn Salyars each found their way to Edwardsville. NJCAA All American Outfielder Danielle Shuey, who led the nation in triples and hails from Danville Area Community College, rounds out the list of transfers.

Newcomers Maleah Blomenkamp, Amber Morgan, Abby Harvell, Jenna Little, Harley Limberger and Reese Ray add depth, additional speed and power to supplement an already talented team. We are excited about this group as they love to compete and have fun doing so.  They should be a fun team to watch.”

What are your short-term goals for the program?

“In the short-term, we want to build off of the momentum from last season. Earning a trip to and competing in a regional is at the forefront of our minds, but we need to focus on what we can control to help get us there.”

What are your long-term goals for the program?

“Long-term, we want to build a more competitive program that is recognized as a tough, gritty mid-major team who excels on the field and in the classroom.”

Lastly, do you have any information to share for prospective athletes in regards to camp information for 2024?

“All camps can be found at:

https://link.edgepilot.com/s/84cb7db8/MsSmqs6zm022N7RybXHl8A?u=https://www.sordensoftballcamps.com/

We will add an elite camp this summer as well as 2 fall prospect camps and continue our winter academies for local players.”

*The SIUE Cougars will open their season on February 9th at the Frank Griffin Classic in Deland, FL squaring off against Boston University and Stetson University that Friday afternoon.*

Athletic Training Aids Athletes in Pursuits

Athletic Training Aids Athletes in Pursuits

By Jeff Strange

In today’s ever-evolving field of youth, collegiate and professional sports, the modern athlete recognizes the benefits to seek an edge over their competition. With numerous advancements in the education and technology of sports and athletic training, today’s athlete has taken the opportunities available to enhance their overall performance output in an effort to maximize their athletic abilities.

It’s not uncommon to wake up in the morning, tune into a social media outlet of choice and see videos of athletes training in a manner that was perhaps unheard of 30 years ago. Athletes today are more connected than ever before because of smartphones, fitness tracker watches and other devices. This has opened up new training programs for athletes of all ages. With high-tech tools, trainers can now accurately track and measure their athletes’ performance during practice sessions. Technology is revolutionizing sports training, with a high likelihood that it can become even more advanced in the future.

Also evolving is the science of education in sports and athletic training. Former University of Missouri softball player Natalie Fleming graduated with a degree in Exercise Physiology in 2017 from Mizzou. She then took her field of study and love of the game to McKendree University in Lebanon, IL to contribute to their softball program as a graduate assistant coaching softball along with contributing as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. While finishing her masters at McKendree, Fleming pursued and obtained her CSCS certification (certified strength and conditioning specialists) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. She now works as a trainer at Winchester Spine and Sport in Troy, MO.

According to Fleming, more and more youth athletes are starting to pursue athletic training.

“I think there are more kids starting strength and conditioning at a younger age now compared to even a couple years ago,” said Fleming. “They are learning coordination and understanding how to use their bodies. I also think that there are more travel teams getting into strength and conditioning as a whole now, compared to the past. Previously kids would go out and lift here and there on their own and now whole teams are coming in as an organization.”

Fleming has incorporated her knowledge into tailoring fitness plans for athletes, depending on their experience level and availability.

“Every training program can be different depending on how many days a week I see the athletes and what their goals are,” said Fleming. “Typically, we will start with some kind of speed/explosiveness and then get into the main lift such as a squat or a deadlift. We’ll then mix in some accessory lower lifts, followed by upper body. I’ll have the kids max out when they are in their off-season so that we can get working numbers to train off of and build a program around that.”

Her approach to helping athletes looking for basic overall gains or sport specific training varies, depending on the athlete.

“I think it depends on the age of the athlete as to whether they train for overall gains or more sports specific movements,” said Fleming. “The younger kids are still learning their bodies, so we try to stick with more fundamental and functional movements. With the older kids, we get into more sport specific movements while mixing in the main lifts. Sports feature a ton of power, so no matter what sport we are training for we can always become more explosive.”

In the world of softball, competition generally chills out during the cold-weather months, allowing the athletes’ time to regroup mentally and seek gains physically. Fleming believes that the off-season is a great time for athletes to utilize the tools, resources and education available to enhance their physical output.

“The off-season is when athletes can really push their bodies and make changes,” said Fleming. “This is the time to challenge yourself, set goals and achieve them. Working for some hypertrophy, get bigger, stronger and more explosive. The other major benefit for training during the off-season is injury prevention. When we are in season, our bodies get worn down and we get tired. However, if we prepare well during the off-season, we lessen the chance of injury or fatigue.”

She also believes that there are benefits to training in-season for athletes as well.

“During the season, you might cut back the amount of days you train and try to maintain the strength you gained during the off-season,” said Fleming. “Working in lower reps with similarly heavy weights. Ultimately, we want to keep the body feeling good. I wouldn’t recommend throwing anything new at the athletes during this time that could stress their nervous system. You want the athletes feeling strong, not being sore going into their games.”

With the advancements of education and technology in sports and athletic training, athletes are taking their physical abilities to new heights. Fleming believes that sharing her knowledge can help young athletes with their respective pursuits.

“I always say I chose this profession because I want to teach kids that how you train off the field directly affects how you perform on the field.”

Recruiting 2025 – Smooth Defense and Dynamite Bat Propel Watson as Catcher on the Radar

Recruiting 2025 - Smooth Defense and Dynamite Bat Propel Watson as Catcher on the Radar

By Jeff Strange

Game awareness. Softball IQ. Physical talent. Calm and collected. All are key attributes that coaches love to see from their athletes. For a catcher, it’s more than just that; being a field general that knows how to lead, gains the trust and respect of her teammates and understands the nuances of each situation is invaluable.

For Marquette (Chesterfield, MO) High School Junior Aubrey Watson, those descriptions embody her player profile.

Described by her high school coach John Meyer as similar to having another coach on the field, the 5’8” Watson has grown substantially as a standout behind the plate, in the box and on the field over the past few years. Having twice been elected Team Captain, along with helping lead the Marquette Mustangs to the 2022 5A Missouri Final Four, Watson has put together an impressive resume in her high school career. In her first three Varsity seasons, she has been awarded:

  • 1st Team All District(x2)
  • 1st Team All Conference
  • 2nd Team All Conference
  • 1st Team All Region
  • Academic All State(x3)
  • Suburban Conference Sportsmanship Award recipient
  • Marquette Team MVP.

Several years ago, Watson ventured into select softball, trying out for Coach Matt Pruett’s St. Louis Chaos team.

“I was originally a pitcher and third baseman,” said Watson. “Coach Pruett encouraged me to give catching a try and I fell in love with it. I also picked up playing first base as well.”

Through hard work and a sound mental approach, Watson’s game began to flourish as she often played against girls older than her. Her cucumber-cool mental approach to the game in the field and at the plate has helped the powerfully framed C/1B grow into a valuable presence for her teammates and coaching staffs alike.

At the plate, Watson has admitted to sometimes “singing a song in her head” to help herself stay calm and in the moment. Along with a power-packed swing that produces line drives peppered to all parts of the field, the 2025 right-handed hitter has grown into a feared run producer with a knack for delivering in the clutch.

Case in point – fall 2022. In a dogfight district semifinal game against a strong Lafayette High School team, Watson walked off the game with a bottom of the ninth sacrifice fly to send the Mustangs to the district championship (they ended up winning districts and pulled in a fourth-place finish at state).

“That’s my favorite softball memory of all time,” admitted Watson.

Behind the plate, Watson has been described as a brick wall with a deadly accurate arm that has erased countless baserunners. Her 2023 select numbers include:

  • .133 stolen bases per inning
  • .033 passed balls for inning

Now donning a new uniform playing with the Top Gun STL GOLD 18U team, Watson is eager to display her skills against top competition. With a recent final four finish at the HFL Fall Championship in November, Watson and her teammates earned a berth to the AFL Nationals Championship next summer in Indiana.

“I love to compete,” said Watson. “I’ve played for some great coaches in club softball and high school softball. I’ve had a lot of great teammates that I’ve been fortunate enough to share the field with. Softball has been a great outlet for me and I’m looking forward to what the future may hold.”

As she approaches the spring, Watson has put an emphasis on the future, with college softball being a driving force to go along with her academic aspirations. A strong student carrying a 3.9 GPA, Watson has made it clear that she ultimately loves to be on the field and plans to continue playing softball while planning to study marketing and communications. As a stout defensive catcher that brings a big bat to the lineup, along with a team-first mentality and a willingness to do whatever she can to help her squad, Watson’s options appear to be marketable.

“My goal for wherever I end up is to do whatever I can to help our team be successful,” said Watson. “My academics are very important to me. Also, being on the field playing this game, contributing any way that I can is something that I take seriously. I’m very thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had and I’m excited about what’s to come.”

Aubrey Horst Selected for USA Softball High Performance Program

Aubrey Horst Selected for USA Softball High Performance Program

By: Rob Else

Last spring, Aubrey Horst (2027 – Gretna East/NE National-Taylor) received an email from her club coach about a Team USA High Performance Program tryout in Kansas City.  She didn’t know much about the program or really what to expect, but after talking it over with her mom she decided to give it a try.

In June Aubrey attended the Regional Identifier tryout at the MLB Urban Youth Academy.  Aubrey competed against girls from a five-state region that includes Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, and Missouri.  Players were evaluated on two defensive positions, hitting, and speed.  The top athletes from the Regional Identifier would be selected for the National Selection Event.

On June 23rd Aubrey received the news she was waiting for.  She had been selected for the National Selection Event.

According to the USA Softball website, the High Performance Program is “the pipeline to the Women’s National Team.”  The top athletes from each Regional Identifier are selected to attend the National Selection Event.  After the National Selection Event it’s possible to get invited to the National Team trial.

That National Selection Event was held at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida. “There were so many talented players there. It was really cool to be around them and compete with them,” said Horst.  Several of the USA National Team players were also there, including Cat Osterman, Ally Carda, Gwen Svekis, and Haylie McCleney. 

At the event, the players were run through a series of athletic tests where evaluations were done every step of the way.  “Friday, I had to get all my athletic testing completed. This was the speed tests, the throwing velos, hitting velos, defensive position evaluations. There is an evaluation team at every test recording times and velos and writing evaluation notes,” said Horst.  In addition to the tests, players were provided with classroom sessions on mental health, physical preparation, social media, and Name Image Likeness (NIL).  Players also had the opportunity to show off their skills in live games in front of more evaluators. During the games, teams of evaluators were watching and taking notes on every player.

The event lasted four days and Aubrey had tons of support from her teammates and coaches back home. Several of her Gretna East and NE National teammates reached out with messages cheering her on while she was in Florida.

Overall, the experience was one Aubrey will never forget and one that will help her become a better player.  “It made me get out of my comfort zone and push myself even harder. Playing with and against all those girls was amazing. I realized what parts of my game I do well, and what parts I need to put more work into,” said Horst. It also wouldn’t have been possible without the support of her parents, family, coaches and teammates.

Aubrey plans to play college softball and has just started looking at schools.  She will be attending several college camps this year, including Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and probably a few more.

Top Players Showcase Their Skills at Power 50 Prospects Event

Top Players Showcase Their Skills at Power 50 Prospects Event

By Rob Else

Several top players from the 2025 and 2026 classes showed off their skills for college coaches at the Top Gun Events Power 50 Prospect camp.  The inaugural event, held November 18th at the Griffon Indoor facility in St. Joseph, MO, wasn’t a traditional camp that players are familiar with.  “It wasn’t a traditional camp like people are used to.  It was not an instructional camp at all it was purely a showcase camp,” said Paige Crawford, Director of Athletic Experience for Top Gun Events.

The all-day event started early with opening ceremonies and players being split up into teams, depending on their graduating class.  Following the opening ceremonies, the showcase kicked off with metric testing.  Athletes were run through several tests that college coaches use to evaluate recruits.  The tests included a 40-yard dash, the pro agility shuttle, throwing velocity, exit velocity, and pitching measurables.  All the results were posted in real-time to the Top Gun Events website allowing college coaches to pull up player performances while at the event.  

There were lots of great players, but here are a few that stood out during the metric testing:

  • Keegan Baker (2026) – Oklahoma Athletics – Fastest pitching velocity at 66 mph
  • Addison Ray (2026) – Select Fastpitch – Top exit velocity of 78 mph.
  • Payton Steuart (2026) – Epic Fastpitch – Best catcher pop time, between 1.66 – 1.90
  • Lydia Turner (2026) – Select Fastpitch – Fastest 40-yard dash time at 5.33.

You can view the full leaderboard on the Top Gun event website here: Top Gun Metrics

In addition to metric evaluations, athletes attended classroom training.  Sessions included the BMS Project talking about mental health, Tony Wylie from The Collective Engine provided information about Name Image Likeness (NIL), and Alana Vawter, a current player for South Carolina.  “I loved getting to listen in on the sessions to make me become the best player I can be, all while staying healthy,” said Cali Bentz (2026) from Nebraska Gold.

After a break for lunch, the day continued with live skills workouts and scrimmages in front of the college coaches.  “The day was long but fun! I learned a ton of new things about the NIL deals and the recruiting process,” said Avery Nelson (2026) from the SE IA Allstars. 

The event was limited to the Top 50 players in the Midwest region.  Each player was selected through an extensive process that included being nominated by their club organization.  The nominated players were then reviewed by a selection committee to determine if they met the participation criteria.  If a player was selected by the committee, then an offer to attend was sent.  “My initial reaction was very excited. I didn’t know if I would get in and getting to be one of the 50 athletes selected to go was a very exciting opportunity,” said Bentz.

Overall, the event was a success for everyone that attended.  The hope is to continue this event and make it an annual tradition.  Top Gun Events is already planning a similar event; the Top 100 Junior Prospect event will be held in January.  The event will include over 20 NAIA, JUCO, and Division 2 college coaches on hand to evaluate 2025 athletes.  It will use the same selection process for inviting players.

Mississippi State pledge Troutman agrees to NIL deal

Mississippi State pledge Troutman agrees to NIL deal

By Jeff Strange

Henderson County (KY) senior OF/1B Taylor Troutman has agreed to a Name Image Likeness (NIL) deal with The Collective Engine and Top Gun Events. Troutman, who is committed to play for Mississippi State upon high school graduation currently stars for Top Gun National 18u, coached by Bob Turner.

The NCAA enacted the name, image, and likeness (NIL) policy on July 1, 2021. Student-athletes are now free to enter into any endorsement deals for their name, image, and likeness as they see fit. The Collective Engine (TCE) helps athletes pilot a route forward — with sponsorship, licensing, social media, and personal branding — that helps athletes maximize their overall value. The Collective Engine announced a partnership with Top Gun Events in August 2023 as an avenue to help support student-athletes with their NIL objectives.

Troutman has indicated that she has submitted a list of brands to The Collective Engine that she is hopeful to work with and promote through social media outlets. Some of the brands range from sports apparel, clothing lines, water bottle companies, skin care brands, restaurants and of course, softball equipment and products. 

In the meantime, Troutman stays active and busy with her softball schedule along with playing an active role with children in her community.

“Kids are my passion,” said Troutman. “I’m planning to major in elementary education and special education. I’m currently a peer tutor in my high school and help teach the special needs program. I also teach pre-school for two hours a day – I love working with children!”

Teaching pre-school. High school. National level travel softball. College on the horizon. There’s a lot on the plate for Troutman. She recognizes a great support system through her family, coaches and faith.

“My family has been very supportive every step of the way for me,” said Troutman. “My dad is actually my high school team’s coach – we’ve grown a ton together. My mom travels with me a lot to our tournaments and is always supporting me. Coach Bob (Turner) has been a great mentor for me; I probably wouldn’t even be on this call if it wasn’t for all the support that he’s provided along the way. I also turn to prayer and my faith to help me with the mental side of everything in life – not just softball.”

With a bright outlook on life and a strong presence on the field, in the classroom and her community, Troutman exudes a positive image that fits well with any promotions of brands that she hopes to partner with. She acknowledges that she is happy that she has signed her NIL deal with The Collective Engine and Top Gun Events.

“Getting this NIL deal signed relieves a lot of stress for when I get to college,” said Troutman. “With classes, softball, workouts all on the horizon, it’s very exciting that this is set and I know what to expect.”

Brylee Brewster commits to University of Nebraska – Omaha

TAKING HER TALENTS NORTH, Brylee Brewster has verbally committed to attend the University of Nebraska-Omaha where she will continue her education and pursue her softball dreams. Brewster is a junior at Warsaw High School in rural Missouri.

 

Brylee Brewster commits to University of Nebraska - Omaha

By: Adam Howe

Like about every other little girl, when she was younger, Brylee Brewster played sports and joined teams so that she could have fun and be with her friends.  

After dabbling in tee ball and local youth leagues, she started playing competitive softball at about the age of 8.  She started off with the Torque Fastpitch organization and, as is usual, her dad was one of her coaches.  Winning kept her going, but it didn’t take her long to figure out that she wanted more.  When the trophies weren’t enough, as a pre-teen, Brewster joined the Olathe, Kansas based KC Peppers organization.  There, she was put on bigger stages and challenged herself by facing better players.  She continues to play for the BC Peppers and travels the country from coast-to-coast, competing against the best players that the sport has to offer.

“When she was younger, you could see that she was different,” BC Peppers coach Eric Flores said.  “She had a different drive to her than other players her age. She has always pushed herself to compete at the highest level.” 

Now, as a 17 year old junior at Warsaw High School, Brewster has already gained All-Conference, All-District, All-Region and All-State recognition, and with 2 years left in her high school career, she is sure to add more awards along the way while also in the search of a state title for the Ladycats.

“One thing you can count on from Brylee is that she is going to work,” Flores added.  “She continues to push herself to be better.  And as good as she is in on the dirt and in the circle, she is an even better person.  She is a natural leader who leads by example with kindness and humility.”

As this past September 1 drew near, Brewster knew she had multiple interests in her abilities to play at the collegiate level.  She received interest from major programs in Power 5 conferences, as well as multiple mid-major programs and many Division II schools.  However, after making a couple of visits to campuses, she recently made her announcement that she will be attending the University of Nebraska-Omaha where she will join an up-and-coming Mavericks team. 

After coaching her myself for many of her years and watching her mature into the young lady and the player that she is today, it was my honor to sit down and talk with Brewster about her recent decision.  

AH: When did you start playing sports, and what did you play?

BB: I’ve been playing sports ever since I was little.  I started off with tee ball, and then in middle school, I played softball, basketball and volleyball.

AH: When did you realize that softball would be your focus?

BB: When I was 13, I joined the Peppers organization and realized that softball was something that I wanted to continue to do and it could possible pay for my college.

AH: How did pitching come about?

BB: When I was 10, I played on a local traveling team, Torque, and we needed a pitcher so I tried it out for fun.  At first, it was something that I was just trying to do for the team, but I ended up falling in love with it.

AH: What kind of work has gone into your pitching?  

BB: I have put a lot of work into pitching.  I am constantly training to get better, either in the weight room or on the field.  I go to lessons in Lawrence, Kansas every other week.  My instructor is Tracey Bunge.  She is a previous player and coach at KU.  I’ve been working with her for about a year and a half now and I’ve learned so much.  There’s  just always something I can do to be better.

AH: Have you ever played any other positions?

BB: I used to play first base, along with pitching, but there came a point a few years ago when I decided that I just wanted to focus on pitching.

AH: What is so attractive or undeniable, to you, about being in the circle?  Not just anyone can do it, right?

BB: I love to be in the circle because I am in control of the game.  I get the ball every play, so there’s always something I can do to help the team.  Pitching is an extremely difficult thing to do.  It takes a lot of practice and doesn’t just come naturally.

AH: How was the recruiting process for you?

BB: The process was a little stressful.  I was worried that I wouldn’t find my “home”, but when I stepped onto campus at Omaha, I knew that I had found it.  

AH: Where else did you visit?  Any other offers?

BB: I visited Missouri State University.  It was also a really great experience and I can’t thank their staff enough for taking the time to welcome me into their “home”.

AH: So why the University of Nebraska-Omaha?

BB: When I was on my visit there, I just felt at home.  I could see myself going there and living my everyday life.  There was just something about it, and I knew that it could be my new “home” away from home.

AH: How do you expect the Mavericks to use you?

BB: I’m hoping to be in the circle as an underclassmen and help produce early.  I really just want to have a positive impact as a member of the pitching staff and do what I can whenever my name is called.

AH: Any idea on a major yet?

BB: I want to major in Speech Pathology.  I plan on being a speech therapist at a school and working with young kids.  My grandma impacted me to follow the speech patch.

AH: What were some of the things that drew you to Omaha, the city itself?

BB: Omaha is a really pretty city!  The campus alone is beautiful.  And the city isn’t really big, but it isn’t small either.

AH: What have been some of your most memorable experiences while playing high school softball?  Travel softball?

BB: I love having the opportunity to play high school softball because it’s with my school friends.  We get to bond and grow closer together, on and off of the field.  With the BC Peppers, this last summer, we played the Aces and I was in the circle.  They are a really good organization with a lot of girls committed to playing D1.  It’s been several years since our team had beat them, so it was really exciting when we beat them, 2-1.  I pitched the full 7 innings and it was such a good game. Our defense was lights out!  Travel ball has allowed me to make lifelong friends and travel places that I really never thought I’d go!

AH: Who has been the biggest inspiration in your softball career?

BB: My biggest inspiration has been Kasey Wood.  She was my teammate for 2 years and she’s currently playing softball at the University of Arkansas.  She was an amazing role model and taught me how to be tough in the circle, both mentally and physically.  She was the best mentor and she taught me so much.  I’m very grateful that I got the honor of pitching with her.

AH: How do you want Ladycats fans and those little girls watching to remember you?

BB: I want the younger generation to remember me as someone who was a role model.  I want to positively impact younger girls and help them become the best versions of themselves, both on and off of the field.

AH: What advice might you give to those younger girls who are just starting to play and enjoy softball?

BB: Enjoy the ride!  It’s very mentally and physically challenging, but it’s all worth it.  All of the bad innings and games mean nothing when you find huge success.  There is always work to be put in and you should never be satisfied with where you are.  Strive to be the best you can be and just play the game you love.

AH: Anything else you’d like to add?

BB: I’d just like to thank my parents for helping me get to where I am today.  They have sacrificed a lot for our family just to get me where I need to be every weekend.  I know they wouldn’t trade it for the world and I’m incredibly grateful for that.  My dad has sat on a bucket too many times to count and my mom has traveled the country with me.  I think softball has brought our family closer and it’s allowed us to spend quality time together and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything different with anyone else.

 

Florida State Commit Harlie Chism lands NIL Deal

Florida State Commit Harlie Chism lands NIL Deal

By: Rob Else

Harlie Chism from Weatherford High School (OK) has signed a Name Image Likeness (NIL) deal with The Collective Engine (TCE).  Chism, a 2025 Florida State commit, plays for the Oklahoma Athletics National 2024 team coached by Brian Madden and Terry Clemmer.

“It’s a great way to market yourself and get your name out there for when softball does end” said Chism.

TCE offers a full suite of marketing and branding services focused on the athlete’s success off the field.  It is run by Tony Wyllie who has more than 27-years of experience in sports management including serving as the Senior Vice President of Communications for the Washington Redskins football organization.  In August of 2023, Top Gun Events and The Collective Engine announced a partnership in supporting student-athletes in achieving their NIL goals.

Chism’s NIL deal came about through her club coaches.  “Brian Madden reached out to my dad and I and said it would be a great opportunity,” she said.  It was an opportunity that was too good to pass up for the future Seminole.  Part of what sold Chism on signing with The Collective Engine is the athletes they represent. 

Two-time NCAA D1 championship pitcher, Jordy Bahl signed a deal with The Collective Engine earlier this year.  “It stood out to me that TCE had just signed Jordy Bahl,” said Chrism when asked about why she went with TCE.

Not all states allow high school athletes to sign NIL deals.  Unlike college athletics, there is no national governing body for high school sports.  As of April 2023, 25 states allow some form of NIL monetization at the high school level.  The Oklahoma Secondary Activities Association approved NIL guidelines in October of 2022.  Thus, allowing Chism to sign NIL deals while she is in still in high school.

Chism has taken full advantage and has signed multiple NIL deals.  She has another NIL deal with a local gym where she works out.  She said she wasn’t proactively looking for deals. They have come from her marketing her passions on social media and with other people in the town. 

What is Chism’s advice for other athletes that might be looking for NIL deals?  “Don’t be intimidated by big things coming at you.  Don’t be scared to get right into it.  You have to learn how to be outgoing and communicate,” said Chism. 

Nebraska Crowns Softball State Champions at Connie Claussen Field

Nebraska Crowns Softball State Champions at Connie Claussen Field

By: Rob Else

The Nebraska State Softball tournament started last Wednesday at Smith Softball Complex in Hastings and wrapped up with the championship games on Monday at Connie Claussen Field on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Omaha.  It was the first year for the new format in which the championship games were moved to Omaha to the beautiful new Classen Field.  Championship games for each class were also televised for the first time.

The change was huge success.

Over 4400 tickets were sold for Monday night’s championship games.   Last year, 6800 tickets were sold for the entire tournament in Hastings.  You could feel the electricity in the air and the atmosphere was amazing.  It was standing room only to watch six teams play at the highest level in the state.

Class C – Ashland-Greenwood Wins First Ever State Championship

In the first game of the night, No 1. Ashland-Greenwood beat No 2. Bishop Neumann 2-0. It was the first state softball title in school history for the Bluejays.  Both pitchers were tough in the circle, combining for 19 strikeouts.  Sophia Dill got the win for Ashland-Greenwood pitch a complete game with eight strikeouts and four walks.  Dill pitched around bases loaded situations in the second and third inning.  The Cavaliers stranded 14 base runners and couldn’t come up with the timely hit they need.  The Bluejays scored on an RBI single by Reese Fisher in the sixth and a solo home run by Ellie Stein in the seventh.

Class B – Northwest goes back-to-back

No. 2 Northwest knocked off No. 1 Blair, 9-8,  to claim their second straight state title.  The Vikings got a two-out single by Kyra Ray in the bottom of the seventh to walk of the Bears. The lead changed five times throughout the game.  Blair would get ahead, but the Vikings always had an answer.  At the plate, Northwest was led by Reyse Zobel (2025).  The junior was 4-4 with a home run, a double, and two RBI.   

Class A – Papillion Takes Home 17th State Title

Papillion-Lavista used a 5-run 5th inning to take the lead and beat No. 2 Millard North 10-3.  The Monarchs trailed 2-1 going into the top of the 5th but scored five runs to lead 6-2.  They would add on another run in the 6th and 3 more runs in the 7th.  Monarch pitcher Amanda Gibilisco (2025) kept the Mustang hitters off balance all night with a good mix of change ups.  At the plate, Presley Ivener (2024) and Avery Wolfe (2025) each had three hits.  The win capped off the 17th Class A state softball championship for the Monarchs.