August 17, 2018
Sports
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  • It was a successful summer season full of growth, skill development, team building and victories for the 14U Green Hornets softball team.
    It was a successful summer season full of growth, skill development, team building and victories for the 14U Green Hornets softball team.

Green Hornets 14U Travel Softball Caps Inaugural Season With Trip To National Championships

Judy Tacyn
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August 8, 2018

As the Green Hornets 14U travel softball players frolicked along the Ocean City boardwalk in late July, the joy and friendship they felt together was clearly evident in their smiles and their giggles. It was as if the girls had just won the World Series. Literally.

In just their first year together in travel softball, head coach Mere McAlister’s team qualified to play in the United States Specialty Sports Association Eastern Open National Championships, held in Salisbury and Ocean City from July 23–28. It was the exclamation point on a wild and wonderful year for McAlister, head coach of the 2018 4A state-champion Severna Park High School softball team, who earned numerous accolades and coach of the year awards.

Kelly Burke, who assists McAlister with the SPHS softball team, is the other half of Green Hornets two-14U teams coaching duo. In the spring of 2017, Burke and McAlister first teamed up to coach a 14U recreational team for Green Hornets. For the 2018 season, both coaches held tryouts and each had their own travel team; Green Hornets Black and Green Hornets Green.

“When I started coaching the Green Hornets 14U club team, I knew after a practice or two that these girls had the athleticism to play at a higher level,” explained Burke. “I concentrated on making each player better during the season so we could have a run in the playoffs. We made it all the way to the winner’s bracket final despite having three to five kids on vacation during the playoffs. I recall one parent saying, ‘We plan our vacation this time of year since we never make it this far into the playoffs.’”

After the 2017 club spring season, the coaching duo quickly learned that the players were not ready to hang up their cleats for a summer; they wanted more softball. Burke and McAlister entered the girls in summer tournaments. The taste of travel softball and the excitement of tournaments was enough for the team to know they wanted to play at a higher level.

“Of the 14 players on the club team, 11 of them started playing travel last fall,” explained Burke. “All the girls that played in the program that were entering high school made either junior varsity or varsity softball. The development of each player has cumulated in teams that are playing two levels higher in travel ball by the end of the year. We hope to continue this trend and get a handful of these girls playing at the highest softball travel class.”

Travel softball requires a minimum of 55 to 60 games from early spring through the summer. Burke and McAlister’s teams practiced and trained indoors together throughout the winter and spring, and when the winter weather broke, they practiced outside together at least two to three times per week, and practices can last three hours. The hyper focus on the sport allows the veteran coaches to teach well beyond fundamentals and into strategy.

This year the players developed their base running, learning leadoffs, steals, delayed steals and the importance of trying to take the extra base. They’ve developed as hitters in the short game, including sacrifice bunts, squeezes, push bunts, bunts for a hit, righty slaps, left slaps and hit-and-runs. The players also learned the importance of contact hitting versus deep-ball hitting and how to make adjustments. They’ve learned how to make adjustments to pitchers and umpires and the mental side of hitting. They’ve each learned multiple positions instead of being locked into one; they’ve taken more groundballs and flyballs than ever before. They’ve learned first and third plays, how to set up for a tag at a base, pickoffs and cutoffs.

The pitcher is a crucial position. McAlister and Burke taught the pitchers to increase their velocity, and some broke down their pitching style to allow them to work to an elite level. “They’ve learned how to hit spots and utilize changes in speed to keep batters on [their] heels, how to make adjustments in their changeups, curves, screw, drop,” explained McAlister.

Peyton Sullivan was one of the eighth-graders who played with Burke and McAlister in the spring of 2017. By 2018, the freshman at Severna Park High School tried out for the softball team and was selected to play on the varsity team.

“Playing for coaches Burke and McAlister last year definitely prepared me for high school ball, so much so I made varsity as a freshman,” said Sullivan. “It was really great to qualify for the USSSA World Series this year. Personally, I was nominated for the DEL-MAR-VA games for my skills and sportsmanship.”

Sullivan’s speed and softball knowledge made her a base-running threat during the Falcons’ 2018 run to the state championship. She credits her coaches for the extra time they took to teach the intricacies of the game of softball.

Burke said Sullivan was one of the athletic underclassmen who came to high school with a better knowledge of the game, thus being able to contribute in specialty needs at a varsity level sooner.

“These more experienced players understand how long it takes for a varsity catcher to deliver the ball to a base, and this allows these players to understand how much they can risk without being caught off base,” said Burke. “Peyton was one of two players from the rec program to make varsity mainly as base-runners, and those players increased the overall speed of our team on the bases.”

Not many student athletes can say they earned a state championship medal as a freshman like Sullivan, but she has no plans to slow her training. She said this summer the coaches taught her how to play nearly every position, except catcher, and she is particularly excited to take her experience to the Falcons in the spring as a sophomore.

Michael Sullivan, Peyton’s father, said his daughter progressed tremendously this season. “She’s developing into a very skilled player, and she is much more confident as a person,” he said. “Peyton didn’t even want to play in eighth grade; now she can’t wait to play. As a parent, I see Mere and Kelly care so much about these kids, and their success with them is astonishing. It’s not just a sport; [Mere and Kelly] make it feel like a family.”

Meredith Lapati’s daughter, Gina, will be a freshman this fall at SPHS. Gina feels playing softball for McAlister and Burke for two years has prepared her well for high school softball and future years on a travel softball team.

“Gina has grown tremendously as a player with Mere and Kelly. They taught higher-level skills and provided a patient, supportive environment for the girls to practice those skills,” said Meredith. “They have provided honest feedback and afforded the girls a huge range of opportunities to improve as individuals and a team. My daughter has learned to accept feedback and make adjustments accordingly. She has grown to be more disciplined and confident in her abilities both on and off the field. Most importantly, she has fun whenever she is with her team and playing ball. She loves her softball family, and Mere and Kelly were instrumental in building that family.”

Burke’s daughter Nicole graduated from SPHS a couple years ago and is now playing softball in college. Neither McAlister nor Burke have daughters in the Green Hornets or SPHS softball programs. So what drives them?

“[The kids] do,” said McAlister. “They deserve the same opportunities I was blessed with. My travel coach was Pete Waskiewicz, a longtime coach at Mount de Sales, who just retired this year; and my dad, who coached at SPHS for a brief two years after Wayne Mook became athletic director. I love coaching because you can change lives,” added McAlister. “You get to give back to a sport that gave you everything. And, you get to watch athletics give so much to these kids.”

After pouring so much energy and emotion into the Falcon’s state-championship run, McAlister and Burke’s commitment to Green Hornets never wavered. They would get off the field after a high school game or practice and come to Kinder for practice with their travel teams and work with them until 9:30pm to 10:00pm.

With coaches and kids who love the sport, work hard to improve and appreciate their time with one another, the futures of Green Hornets and SPHS softball programs are truly shining bright.


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