College softball coaches aren’t making the trip to Lincoln, Neb., where they might find a good softball player. They are instead attending massive showcase tournaments where the best teams from California, Florida and Texas are playing.
Athletes from the Midwest are not as exposed to the high level of competitive play as players who live in softball rich environments. Super-clubs are popping up all over the country and very few are located in the Midwest, so young softball players are forced to travel to train at competitive facilities and to work with coaches who can prepare them to play at a high level. Now, the best players are pursuing super-clubs so that they can create a name for themselves on a national level. A super-club is a competitive softball club of teams that compete on the national stage and draw kids from all over the region.
Greg Dickel is head coach of Iowa Premier Fastpitch, a super-club based in Des Moines, Iowa. Dickel has won multiple Premier Girls Fastpitch national titles and assists in the majority of his athletes earning Division I scholarships.
“The mission is twofold,” Dickel said. “One is to have success and play on a really high level and develop players on national stages. And the second one, obviously, is to generate the maximum recruiting opportunities for scholarships.”
Without the chance to play in front of a college coach or recruiter, a player could have less of a chance to play in college. As stated by the NCAA, only 1.7% of high school softball players will play Division I softball. If an athlete knows she is good enough to play at a high level, she will start seeking out the best clubs to play at the most competitive level and to perform in front of college coaches. These coaches are usually interested in pursuing athletes on the coasts where they are seeing year-round competitive softball play.
Emma Kauf, a freshman at Georgia Tech and the starting catcher, is a talented softball player hitting at the top of the order. Coming from Lincoln, Neb., she had to work especially hard to get noticed by college coaches. Through some connections and maybe a little bit of fate, she was offered a scholarship to play for the Yellow Jackets.
“We didn’t really get as many opportunities unless you were on a team that allowed you to travel to those coastal areas,” Kauf said.
With more than 39,937,489 people, California has a population density of 251.3 people per square mile. On the other hand, Nebraska makes up 1,952,570 people with a population density of 23.8 people per square mile, according to WorldPopulationReview.com. On the coasts where the population is larger, kids are picking one sport to play at a young age and getting good at that one sport, compared to in the Midwest where there are more multi-sport athletes. This is something that Diane Miller, who is in her 12th season as a Huskers softball coach, has seen firsthand.
“They play rec ball and then once they decide they’re going to play a competitive sport, man, that’s when a lot of parents are like, ‘Yep, that’s it, that’s what we are doing,'” Miller said.
The weather on the coasts also plays a part in how much more those athletes are able to play. This year, the first day of college softball was on Feb. 6. The average temperature in California on that date falls between 50°F and 66°F compared to the Nebraska average, which falls between 21°F to 36°F, according to WeatherSpark.com. When the weather is nice year round, players can practice and play games outside as usual. When they are able to play and practice, players are able to see more game-like activity compared to indoor workouts that the athletes are doing through the colder months.
“They’ve probably played more competitive games because they can play all year. Whereas here, they practice more, early [in the season] then they start playing,” Miller said. “So the thing that happens out there is their database is bigger so they see more movement; they see more change of speeds. They play the game a lot.”
Players from the Midwest travel to be part of prestigious clubs to get the same exposure as the coastal athletes get nearly all year. Athletes from 10 different states make up Dickel’s Iowa Premier-Gold team.
“You’re not going to be able to get those types of opportunities [for the athletes] if your club isn’t winning on the national stage and you have a lot of diversity in your program where you reach into several different areas of your region,” Dickel said.
While the super-clubs are not yet in Nebraska, that doesn’t mean the talent is not. Those athletes are just having to get more creative in order to get ahead and noticed in their sport.