By Tom Mauldin
When the Fastpitch Northwest College Exposure Tournament concludes each year, director Ken Olson reflects on what could have been done better. Then the comments come in from players, coaches and parents.
The players tell Olson they “love it.”
The parents say “thank you for the venue.”
The coaches get a chance to offer scholarships, recruit student athletes to their camps and load up their radar for future prospects.
A lot of smiles were created July 24-25-26.
“Another great group of athletes just finished up our ninth season of Fastpitch NW,” said Olson. “Although we were dealing with 90-plus degree weather, the players played so hard.
“It is so gratifying hearing all the kind words from players and parents this year,” said Olson.
The venue was Borst Park in Centralia, Wash. It’s one complex filled with 11 or 12-player mixed rosters of players from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii and Utah. There are two tournaments – one for incoming high school graduating classes of 2019 and 2020, the other for incoming classes 2021, 2022 and a sprinkling of 2023s.
There were a dozen teams, 142 players, two dozen college coaches recruiting and 30 games played in just over 48 hours.
Yes, there are glitches. Not everyone gets to play their “favorite” positions as often as they would like. Pitching limits are strict as not everyone is “ready for primetime.”
Then again, others find a new position that might be best suited for their future days playing at the next level. And pitchers who weren’t ready to audition in front of a college coach can get motivated for next year.
Olson’s assistant director Tom Mauldin was asked on several occasions by college coaches to move a player from one position to another during a game, have a certain player pinch run and steal on the second pitch or pitch an extra inning.
“We do what the coaches ask of us,” said Olson. “Without them, this program wouldn’t be successful.”
The pinch runner stole on the second pitch and was clocked 2.53 from first to second on the steal. The catcher who was moved to shortstop made two plays in one inning that showed the college coach what he needed to see. And the pitcher who pitched the extra inning struck out two of the three batters she faced. The coaches were impressed.
“I definitely want to thank all the college coaches that attended to recruit our student/athletes,” said Olson. “I also want to thank all the volunteer coaches for their sacrifice of time with this group of athletes … it is greatly appreciated.”
It’s a tournament that creates a lot of appreciation to and from many. Ultimately, it’s an avenue for players to get an opportunity to fulfill their dreams of playing at the next level.
Keoke and Jade Behic traveled from Hawaii with the hopes of getting the attention of the coaches. Jade, a 2019 pitcher-infielder impressed and came away with three offers.
“I want to personally relay my sincere gratitude for what you have done for Jade and my family,” said Keoke Behic, who coaches both high school and club ball in Hawaii. “She now has the opportunity to choose which program she will attend.”
Jade Behic was equally thrilled.
“This year’s tournament offered me the opportunity for the coaches of schools I was interested in to come and watch me play.,” said Jade. “It also gave other coaches that happened to see me give me information about their schools. I appreciate coach Ken and coach T for allowing me this privilege. Mahalo.”
Keoke Behic noted he got see coaches he had met previously in the tournament, as well as meeting some new ones.
“I thought that it was much more convenient playing all the games at the same place,” said Keoke. “College coaches were delegated to only one area. Personally, I appreciated the relationships further developed with college coaches I already knew and honored for the ones I newly met with the help of FPNW.”
Haylee Brown traveled from Hyrum, Utah and was glad she did.
“Thank you so much for getting me involved with it. The tournament was so fun,” said Brown, a 2019 pitcher-outfielder. “I loved meeting all of the girls and getting to know them and it was not as scary as I thought.”
Brown had the opportunity to meet several coaches and was offered two scholarship opportunities.
”The tournament definitely helped me out with knowing more about colleges and what they are looking for and that it is something I can totally do,” said Brown.
Central Washington coach Mike Larrabee said he has 20 new names to put on his recruiting radar.
"Once again I was able to reap the benefits from the 2018 Fastpitch Northwest Summer Tournament," said Central Washington University head coach Mike Larabee. "There will be several players that I’m hoping will one day put on the CWU uniform. I was very impressed with the talent. Some outstanding young pitching, solid catching and some players who can really swing the bat. A few of the participants also showed some outstanding speed on the bases and in the field. Another very successful year for FPNW."
"I think it’s one of the best places for players to get noticed," said Kevin Slorey, head coach at Centralia Community College. "Players get good bang for their buck if they're looking for a small college. There are eight fields at Borst Park that are all within walking distance for the coaches. – you don’t have to drive all over the place to watch potential players giving you the opportunity to watch more players at one location. Every year I find players at Fastpitch NW."
Mauldin was asked what he thought of the 2018 tournament and did not hesitate. “The catching talent was as good as I’ve seen in eight years. And the players who were expected to standout did standout. I had calls from college coaches wanting more information within an hour of leaving the park on Thursday. That was very gratifying.”
Here are a few of the many comments from 2018 tournament participants:
“The tournament was great. It's my favorite thing every year,” said 6A Oregon All-State catcher Chelby Smalley (2019) of Medford. “The girls are always awesome and I love that there are so many opportunities to get seen (by college coaches).”
“You can’t beat this environment,” said 2020 pitcher-outfielder Hailey Johnson of Lebanon, Ore. “It is a place where dynamic softball players come together for highly competitive softball, with great coaches, and college exposure. You go there not knowing your teammates and you leave as life-long friends.”
“It was a true learning experience and having the opportunity to contact and talk to several college coaches was such a blessing, said versatile Lanie Rodriguez (2020) of Medford. “I had a blast playing and I met so many different people who were all so nice! I feel myself evolving a step further each year I come, and I feel the tournament and other players evolving as well. My favorite part was getting to play with, and against such great competitors. I truly appreciate all the hard work and investment that Fastpitch NW has put into these girls and me.”
“I really enjoyed this tournament. I think getting put on a team with a bunch of girls I’ve never met before was a great new experience, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. Even though my team didn’t do amazing we all continued to have fun through everything,” said Taylor Waara, 2019 pitcher-first baseman from Kenmore, Washington. “We cheered for each other and picked each other up when we were down. I want to say thank you for allowing me to have this amazing experience.”
Those are just a sampling of what players said less than 48 hours after the tournament concluded.