Softball in the Summer with College Aspirations
RECRUITMENT: Northwest Softball Players Participate in Fastpitch NW Event as Scouts Look On
By Matt Baide
Most high school athletes around the country hope to have the opportunity to play their favorite sport at the collegiate level, and Fastpitch Northwest helps out softball players with a showcase every year.
The Fastpitch Northwest College Exposure Tournament started Wednesday and wraps up Thursday at Fort Borst Park in Centralia, with more than 200 athletes trying to gain attention of college coaches.
“It’s just a wonderful event for kids to get an opportunity. They’re playing with kids they’ve never met before and we put teams together, 11 to 12 players on a team,” Fastpitch NW director Ken Olson said. “They don’t know each other when they first get here. We put them on a team and they are just kind of star-struck, but by the time we get through half a game, they’re friends and they are hooting and hollering and all of that.”
Olson, who’s also the head coach of the State 2B champion Pe Ell-Willapa Valley softball team, and assistant director Tom Mauldin have put on the event for the last seven years. Fastpitch Northwest puts on camps throughout the Northwest, and from those camps, players are selected to attend the event under the watchful eye of the variety of college coaches that come out.
“We have an obligation to the college coaches in the Northwest, that’s first and foremost, to help the Northwest. We’re trying to get kids that can play at least at a community college level. When we find the diamonds in the rough, then they can probably move on and play at the four-year level,” Olson said. “We certainly want to see those kids because that’s what drives the D-Is, D-IIs, D-IIIs, NAIAs to come to our event. It’s kind of a combination. We want the greatest players we can find.”
As a high school coach, Olson knows how tough the recruitment process can be. But it is rewarding every time he sends a kid off to play for a college team.
“You had a part in it, they do all the work — you just kind of got them through all this stuff,” Olson said. “Every player is a little bit different, their academic situation is different, their social life is different. It’s real rewarding.”
There are a few things college coaches are looking for in particular at the event. College of Idaho softball coach Al Mendiola makes the trip from Caldwell every year because it has the kind of players he wants in his program.
“A lot of these girls are high-academic kids and they are very talented on the softball field, too. It makes it easy for me to recruit when there is an area or showcase that has good academic kids that are also decent on the softball field,” Mendiola said. “It’s just a good start for me because I do have to recruit those good academic kids so having a majority of them in one area makes it easier for me to look for those type of student-athletes.”
On top of that, the College of Idaho doesn’t have the biggest recruiting budget, and events like these bring in athletes from across the region to one place.
“I have to pick and choose where to spend our recruiting budget. To be able to see kids from Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Alaska, it makes it easier to see the kids I might usually not be able to see,” Mendiola said. “I can’t just book a flight and spend thousands of dollars on a food and hotel to go see kids in Hawaii. Having the opportunity to see them here makes it so much easier to recruit.”
Mendiola said he does 80 percent of his recruiting in the summer due to coaching in the spring. While he can’t recruit during the high school season, but does take that into consideration when recruiting a player.
“There are times where a kid will email me in the fall and say ‘I played at this high school.’ I will never be able to watch you in high school,” Mendiola said. “There’s a lot of factors. (Winning in high school) factors a lot because I like kids who know how to win, but more importantly, I want kids who understand the team dynamic.
“That’s why I mentioned high school kids, there’s a difference playing for your high school team and your travel ball team, because in high school you don’t usually get to pick and choose your softball team,” he added. “You have tryouts and you’re only choosing kids from your high school.”
Some schools have more advantages than others in the recruiting process. Mendiola coaches at an NAIA school, which allows him to talk to athletes throughout the showcase, whereas NCAA coaches have to wait until after the three-day event before talking to a player.
“It definitely has its advantages. When I look at all these good coaches here at Fastpitch Northwest, and they are biting at the chomps wanting to talk to this kid so bad, for me to just walk right up to the kid and talk to them, it’s a huge advantage,” Mendiola said.
Mendiola comes to these showcases with particular open roster spots in mind, and enjoys the teams being separated by class so he can plan ahead for recruiting in the future.
But the main thing that both Olson and Mendiola stressed when trying to play softball in college were academics.
“I always tell kids, there’s three things you have to think about and put them in this order. Family first, academics and softball,” Olson said. “Be a good family member first, academics is second before softball always, because if you don’t have good grades, they’re not going to recruit you.”
Mendiola echoed the sentiment.
“It’s very important, especially at our school. If you’re not a student first, you’re not going to succeed, there are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it,” Mendiola said. “To put yourself in a position to be successful on the softball field, you have to put yourself in a position to be successful in the classroom. Success carries over.”