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Fastpitch Northwest Overcomes Big Challenges to put on Successful College Exposure Event in Oregon

By Tom Mauldin - 8/9/2020

It wasn’t what had been planned in January. That was Plan A.

Or Plan B in early April.

Or Plan C in late May.

Or Plan D in late June.

And it certainly wasn’t what was planned by mid-July.

Plan A was to host upwards of two dozen-plus softball teams at Borst Park in Centrailia (WA) and have 40-plus college coaches onsite to recruit for four days in August. Then the Coronavirus changed the world, forcing Fastpitch Northwest administrators Mike Brooks and Dale Pullin to develop alternate plans to host their annual College Exposure Tournament.

But to get to that point, they needed players — quality players. It’s been Fastpitch Northwest’s philosophy to hold prospect evaluation camps (PECs) and invite the top players to participate in the tournament.

At every turn, COVID19 was rearing its dreaded virus. County lockdowns and crowd limitations were escalating from state to state. Prospect camps were being cancelled and re-directed. Thirty planned PECs were trimmed to a dozen, four in each state.

And in late July, an uptick in COVID19 cases forced Lewis County (WA) into shutting down Borst Park prohibiting it from hosting the event due to the shear numbers involved. There were no locations open in Washington.

You get the picture. Changes, re-arranging and sleepless nights for Brooks and crew.

The end result was a two-day event in Keizer, OR, that featured a dozen teams - seven in the 2021-2022 division five in the 2023-2024-2025 division — and 132 softball players that didn’t disappoint with their performances.

“In spite of all the challenges I feel our 2020 Fastpitch Northwest Championships was successful beyond our expectations,” said Brooks. “There were days leading up to our event when we weren’t sure it was going to happen, but our ownership group was determined to find a way. After finishing up our summer evaluation camps and seeing the talent level of players competing to attend, I felt we had to find a way to bring them all together to showcase their skills.”

Due to recruiting and COVID19 restrictions and protocols, fewer college coaches were in attendance than usual, but all games were streamed and recorded so college coaches could watch and/or review any time.

“Even after scheduling, re-scheduling and changing locations as the states and counties reacted to the ever changing Coronavirus conditions, our eval camp attendance increased along with the overall talent level,” Brooks pointed out. “The 2020 Fastpitch season will certainly be one we will long remember.”

The Washington Forest, led by a pair of future Division 1 players Haley Rainey (2021 from Adna, WA) and Sydney Wells (2021 from Selah, WA), won the Upper Division losing just once and Oregon Royal, led by power pitchers Allison Parker (2023 from Bend) and Amanda Peterson (2023 from Beaverton), swept through the Lower Division unbeaten.

And just like that, Plan E or F or G was a success.

“I was extremely impressed with the determination and dedication of the girls and parents,” said Brooks, a former professional baseball player. “Even with a shorter and inconsistent summer season the girls came ready to play and the parens were patient and flexible enough to make sure they got here.”

There were many other changes, some not as dramatic as finding a location and moving the main components. The administration team had to be relocated from Centralia to Keizer for three days, Washington and Oregon umpires were teamed up to rule the games, and a new stable of guest coaches had to be recruited to name just a few.

“I’m very grateful to the Keizer Little League Organization to allow us use of their facility on short notice after Lewis County, WA., restricted youths sports events less than 10 days before our scheduled start date,” continued Brooks. “The local grounds crew, team coaches and two umpire associations all contributed to making it happen. We even had several college head coaches coaching our tournament teams and our new state directors did an outstanding job bringing the top players from their respective states.”

Brooks had special thanks for senior advisor Tom Mauldin, who has been with the program for 10 years.

“Many thanks to Tom whose advice and ‘Fastpitch Wisdom’ has helped me tremendously along the way,” said Brooks. “Coach T was constantly on the move from field to field during the tournament offering advice, speaking to teams and encouragement to players. His reputation as one of the top pitching instructors in fastpitch softball is well deserved.”

College of Idaho head coach Al Mendiola, who pulled double duty in his role as Idaho state director and COI recruiter, said FPNW did a great job of planning the event with short notice.

“The event went well and I felt like each state had good representation from the upper and lower graduating classes,” said the Yotes’ coach. “The kids were great to talk to and enjoyable to watch. Definitely two good days of softball. I can't wait until next year to see what type of talent participates. I will definitely be making (recruiting) phone calls.”

Oregon director Nicole Christian echoed Mendiola’s comments.

“I thought the turnout was great for all the last-minute changes we had to do,” said Christian, Eastern Oregon University head softball coach. “Mike (Brooks) and staff did a great job moving it and getting the tournament in. We had a ton of talent from the underclass and upper class. Great feedback from college coaches that attended. I am looking forward to next year.”

Kevin Wise, who splits his time coaching at McNary High School (Keizer, OR) and the Northwest Vandals youth team, guided the Oregon Royal to the Lower Division title and was pleased to be a last-minute fill-in coach. He called the event “amazing.”

“This was an amazing experience for everyone involved,” said Wise. “These athletes have the opportunity to compete with and against some of the best softball players in the northwest. I think the best thing for me was to watch how these young ladies bonded over a two-day period. I am certain there were some lifelong friendships made during that time and it was amazing to be a part of that.”

Rainey praised Brooks and his team for putting the event on under such difficult circumstances.

“I appreciate how Fastpitch Northwest was able to adapt to the unique situation and still give players a platform to play in front of college coaches,” said Rainey, who has committed to Idaho State University. “It was also a great opportunity to get to play actual games against competitive opponents during a summer where competitive games have been limited.”

“The (Fastpitch Northwest College Exposure Tournament) was a very positive experience for me. I not only had an opportunity to play with stellar athletes from around Oregon, but got to talk to college coaches and gather a lot of information. I really enjoyed it,” said Lena Zahniser, (2022 Bend High School, Bend, OR), a member of the runnerup Oregon Navy team.

“We had to bring our A game for this highly competitive event,” added Zahniser. “Despite COVID19, Fastpitch Northwest directors did a great job maintaining a level of safety while giving us a chance to play.”

Kasey Aquinaga (2022, Brentwood, CA) said she heard about Fastpitch Northwest from her travel coach, Nicole Rollins (Idaho Crossfire) and was urged to attend.

“I loved the tournament and meeting girls from different states,” said Aquinaga, who played for the At-Large Grey that went 3-3. “I had so much fun and was so happy to be playing the game I love.”

Madison Van Sickle (2021 from Highland High School, Pocatello (ID)) thanked the FPNW team for pulling it off.

“We had a wonderful experience at Fastpitch Northwest,” said Van Sickle. “It was a fun opportunity to play with other Idaho players and girls from Washington and Oregon. I Enjoyed the opportunity to get some college exposure. The teams were equally distributed and there were highly competitive games played, from a spectator and athlete point of view. Thank you Fastpitch Northwest for the opportunity to be on the field and to play the game I love.”

It wasn’t just the players and guest coaches enjoying the tournament. Parents were pleased as well.

“I thought it was well organized, especially considering the current challenges with the virus situation,” said Todd Mauger of Pocatello (ID). “Our daughter, Marissa (2023 from Pocatello, ID), enjoyed meeting new girls, coaches, and friends. The competition and talent level was really good. The talent level was better than in past years and I am looking forward to next year.”

Tom Leuthaser of Redmond (OR) felt the event was more than just softball, especially during this time of pandemic. His daughter Kayla is a versatile 2021 from Ridgeview High School.

“As a parent of a player in the current country’s situation, I saw great sportsmanship, camaraderie and fun from all those playing and spectating,” said Leuthaser. “It was an enjoyable two days where the only thing that mattered were these girls out playing and competing. Maybe if we had more of this going on we would all be in a better place.”

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