Note: Extra Inning Softball's Brentt Eads will be at the Top Club National next week... if you're there, be sure to say hello!
Last year at this time, we were previewing the inaugural launch of the Top Club National which in 2019 featured 48 teams and two strong attractions: the chance to play games on the Univ. of Oklahoma’s home field and the winner-take-all format that gave the top finishers in each age division up to $7,000.
This year, there’s another key draw: the outstanding quality of the teams invited and attending.
The field has grown to 109 total teams—34 in 18U; 42 in 16U and 33 in 14U—but it’s the caliber of the teams that will compete from June 24 through June 27 in Moore, Choctaw and Shawnee, Oklahoma--which has everyone excited for this year’s National.
Using the 2019-2020 Extra Elite Eighty Club Rankings, we see how strong each age division is:
- 18U: Overall, there are 20 teams at Top Club National this year who made the Extra Elite Eighty at 18U, with 7 of the Top 20 and 4 in the Top 10 including #1 Athletics – Mercado/Smith; #3 Georgia Impact – Lewis; #6 Birmingham Thunderbolts; and #9 Aces Fastpitch
- 16U: tery strong at the top of the Extra Elite Eighty, there are 6 of the Top 10 at 16U including 4 of the top 5: #1 Mojo – Fisher; #2 Birmingham Thunderbolts; #3, Athletics – Mercado/Greg and #5 Hotshots Premier – Nelson. Right behind are #6 Tennessee Mojo 2021 and #9 Texas Blaze NTX Premier along with #12 Texas Glory – Naudin and #13 Oklahoma Athletics – Madden/Yeatts. Of the Top 80, 19 will play in the Top Club National.
- 14U: three of the Top 5 in this age division will battle including #2 Athletics Mercado 2023; #4 Texas Bombers – Jones and #5 Mojo 2023 – Danley. There are 15 of the Top 80 teams pre-summer who will take the fields next week.
What led to the explosively strong second year for the event? Co-Director Brian Madden of the host Oklahoma Athletics organization says the Coronavirus had something to do with it.
“Once COVID-19 hit,” he explains, “strong teams looking to play other teams, especially those in hard-hit pandemic areas like California and New Jersey, reached out and said they were really wanting to play. That worked great for the event as we want the best teams nationally to come and it’s provided great, great match-ups this year.
One downside of the Coronavirus is that teams won’t be able to play at the University of Oklahoma Softball Complex due to NCAA and university restrictions; on the positive side, though, the money for the winner’s and second-place finishers is higher: $10K for 18U and 16U and up to $7K for 14U while the runners-up will get checks for $1,500 at the older divisions and $1,250 for second at 14U.
Last year, the money, trophies and playing on OU’s championship field were selling points--the Top Club National organizers admit--but there’s another draw to the event: the opportunity to play in a championship format which has the pressure and feel of playing for something big... like a true National Championship.
And unlike some showcases and tournaments, teams in the Top Club National aren’t able to move up and play older teams—every team must play in its age division.
“We told everyone they have to play at where they’re at,” Madden says, “as we want to make it feel like a real national tournament.
The format is structured where each team will play an Exhibition Game in a showcase format where all players can see action. Then it gets serious: two pool games followed by four bracket games with the winners going to the Final 4 which will be single elimination.
Originally, the idea was to have Top Club National be a great kick-off for the championship month of July leading into the tourneys in Colorado, PGF Nationals, TC/USA Nationals and more. Now, it’s looking to be one of the tent-pole events of the 2020 season.
We want the games to mean something,” Madden continues, “because of COVID, teams who aren’t able to get to PGF and Triple Crown see this as a good meet-up place for all us. With the stakes being higher, we want the format to be where we get directly to the point and everyone has something to play for.”
Co-Director Cornelius Davis, a coach in the A’s organization as well, assists Madden in running the event including scheduling and running the website. He adds that the high pay-outs for the team symbolize the meaning and reasons for the event.
“It goes back to the original thought process, we wanted to play good softball and not just to make a bunch of money. We want this to be about giving back to softball teams and organizations and, at a higher level, give back to softball world.”
Echoes Madden: “We want to make every game matter and be important, to bring in a competitive feel… a World Series type feel.”
As the recruiting and exposure element are both important for the event, Top Club Invite will be live streamed by FloSoftball and Extra Inning Softball will be there covering the event from start to finish.
Also, the event directors are working overtime to set up good team battles that will appeal to everyone, including college coaches.
“We’ve tried to do a lot of great matchups in setting up the pools that will provide good games and competition people are seeking,” Davis explains. “We want it to have a college feel and will have interview stations set up after the game like college and pro post-game press conferences.”
Last year, the tournament was going to have just 18U and 16U teams, but 14U’s were added and next year it’s been discussed to have 12U games to make this a complete talk-to-bottom Nationals.
This year, teams are coming from all over the nation (16 states): Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Rhode Island, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
We want to make it a household name,” Madden says of the Top Club National, in just its second year, “and have softball coaches and players feel it’s a must-attend type of event.”
What They’re Saying: Club Coach Reasons for Playing in the Top Club National...
The event was great last year and should be this year: a great venue, well run, great teams and a great prize! – Mark Smith of Athletics – Mercado/Smith 18U
*** The teams attending should make this one of the top tournaments around this year and we’re excited to play in a new location. – Jason Holbrook of Atlanta Vipers 18U
*** We are excited about Top Club National because we get a chance to play against some of the best teams in the country close to home. It’s a great opportunity for our players to test themselves against some of the best. – Kevin Shelton of Texas Glory 18U
*** It has great competition with a top national tourney feel and is run by a class organization in the Athletics. – Jim Huecker of Louisville Lady Sluggers 18U
*** This particular tournament was able to draw some very talented teams, which I know was difficult especially with our current situation. Also, this will our first time playing in Oklahoma. – Rock Thompson of Birmingham Thunderbolts 18U
*** We are attending because we need some place to play against good competition. Illinois has been very slow to open up so we have not really had much opportunity yet to compete this summer. We have been pretty much limited to scrimmaging each other so it will probably take us a few weeks to catch up with the rest of the country. – Gerry Quinn of Illinois Chill 18U, 16U and 14U
*** We love the sport and with all the adversity to play in the Northeast during these times we are looking to play in the finest tournaments against the best competition. Top Club Nationals checks all the boxes for us. – Bob Rossi of Rhode Island Thunder 18U
*** This is our second year and the talent level is off the charts. Last year we did very well and look forward to seeing if we can top what we did at the 18U level! – Eric Jones of Select Fastpitch 18U
*** We appreciate this opportunity to play competitive games against the best teams in the country. There is a championship-style bracket which promotes a stronger desire to win. There’s also an opportunity for prize money.-- Taylor Taylor of Aces Fastpitch 18U, 16U and 14U
*** This is one of the biggest event as far as from a talent stand point that's been put on in Oklahoma. – Landon McNeill of Impact Gold Premier – Sydney 16U
*** There are several reasons: the format is real softball, the competition is like no other event in the country, it’s affordable and gives back, the director understands and makes sure to the best of his ability that all the teams are happy and there’s great customer service. – Nathan Nelson of Hotshots Premier 16U
*** We’re incredibly excited about the Top Club National simply because it’s maybe the best competition you’ll find this summer. COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in things, however Top Club has managed to attract an extremely talented group of teams. – Melissa Groff of Nebraska Gold 16U
*** We are excited about the Top Club Nationals because it brings together such an enormous amount of talent to compete against. The environment based on the competition alone should be exciting for the players to be part of. – Justin Wilson of Impact Gold Select 16U
*** The competition is what brings us to OKC. To be the best, we must face the best week over week to prepare for our national title in July. – Joe Torres of Texas Bombers 16U
*** We felt that the team list was potentially one of the best in the country as many of the top 100 ranked teams in the country are in this event. Having the opportunity to play for 10,000 dollars will be a first for us as it makes the stakes even higher. – Josh Fisher of Mojo – Fisher 16U
*** We are excited to play in top club because it’s the best competition that comes to us right here in Oklahoma. – Kady Self of Gametime 16U
*** The high level competition is what’s so exciting. A great chance to see where we are as a team in June against top teams in 16u. An event that is not just regional teams, but from West to East Coast. – Brooks Cherry of Tennessee Mojo – Cherry 16U
*** The California Cruisers 16U Premier team is super excited about this opportunity. This is only our second year as a feeder team to Mel Sievers' 18U Gold Cruisers team, and so we are largely unrecognized in the rankings nor seen as a top national-level team. We are determined to change all that! We will have another opportunity to play against the top organizations in the country as a primer for PGF and to see how we stack up against teams like Mercado-Greg and Oklahoma Athletics. – Clint Watson of California Cruisers 16U
*** Brian Madden and his staff have thrown well organized events before, like when we placed 3rd in the Fall Showcase. We don’t chase trophies, we want to play the best competition out there and this is one event that is loaded. – Jesse Frausto of Texas Blaze 16U
*** As we adapt to the changing climate and environment for club softball, I am most excited to have our teams compete against the top clubs in the region; Texas and Oklahoma teams have a bevy of talented players and organizations. – Ed Naudin of Texas Glory 16U
*** We will get to see some great competition and see some teams from the West Coast. I am always looking forward to challenging my and going into bracket play it’s a money tourney so there is something on the line and hopefully the kids turn it up to compete with some of the best in the country. – Michael Danley of Mojo 2023 14U
*** It's a chance to play the top teams from around the country. There’s no better reason than competing with the best! – Trey Holdbrook of Centex Buzz 14U
*** The event team list is about as competitive a list as you can get with top teams from all over the country and is most appealing, especially with being forced to not play PGF due to COVID issues. We love plying events in which the competition is such that we have to play at the top of our game to win. That’s where we grow. – Steve Jones of Texas Bombers 14U
*** I am excited about the opportunity to travel out of New Mexico to play some of the best teams in the nation. We feel very lucky to be considered to play in this tournament and we are very thankful! – Alvino Vigil of New Mexico Suncats 14U
*** I’m very excited to see softball in the Heartland and both the East and West Coasts represented this week. – Kevin Day of Southern Storm 14U
*** This is a huge opportunity to compete with some of the best organizations in the country and we are grateful for that that. The competition only makes us better. Every game means something and it's our time to compete every pitch of every inning. – Katie Carr of St. Louis Chaos 14U
*** This is the most competitive event happening in our region this summer. We love playing the top talent around the country, especially different teams we do not get the chance of seeing very often. – Ben Slade of Glory Adkins 14U
*** The competition is going be great! It’s the biggest national tourney of the summer to this point! – Tony Kildow of Aces Fastpitch NWA 14U
*** Competition, competition, competition! – Jason Bates of Oklahoma Impact Gold Angels 14U
*** We are trying to play in a bunch of top-level tournaments this year for the girls to get exposure. The lineup in this tournament is stacked! – Kent Hemme of KC Stealth 14U
*** Top Club National gives us a chance to compete with some of the best organizations in the country and every game means something, you have to bring your best every pitch of every inning. – Matt Alvarado of St. Louis Chaos 14U