As we prepare to unveil the 2023 Extra Elite 100, we think back on a story we did last spring featuring two long-time friends who are on the Birmingham Thunderbolts 04 team coached by Ted Flannery.
His daughter, Katie, is a top outfielder in the class and has played together since 8U with outfielder and best friend Hannah Dorsett, daughter of Keith Dorsett who led the Bolts 16U team to the PGF National Championship in 2018.
Both eight-graders are, not surprisingly, well coached and well known, on their way to great success on and off the field.
Here’s a chance to revisit this spotlight on their friendship and what’s gotten them to the point of being Extra Elite 100 candidates today…
Growing Up Thunderbolt Besties: How Two Coaches’ Daughters Have Traveled Together on Their Softball Journeys
Originally published on Extra Inning Softball May 5, 2018
They met when they were six and today, seven years later, the two talented 7th graders from Alabama-- Hannah Dorsett and Katie Flannery--have become best friends, not only on the softball grass fields, but on the volleyball courts and hardwood courts of basketball where they’ve literally gone years without being defeated.
The 2023 grads have similar backgrounds as both have fathers who have had great success as coaches in the Birmingham Thunderbolts club program, but it’s more than that… it’s a story about a friendship of two young girls who’ve literally played together—and been best buds together—for more than half their lives.
Softball has been a key part of their past and a major possibility for their futures which could mean they both go to the same college to play together for several more years, but for now they’re just enjoying life taking on whatever they can do together... as besties on the Bolts.
Hannah Dorsett ran home as fast as she could, but the catcher had the ball a good two steps before she got there. The aggressive baserunner slid – something not attempted by too many five-year-olds – and went right between the catcher’s legs.
Of course, in the ultra super competitive world of 6U All-Stars, it was a big-time play and parents went crazy… and rightfully so.
Even a year younger than all the other kids, Hannah was always a standout. After all, she had been playing 6U ball since she was four and was the third Dorsett sister to come up playing ball.
By this time, her older sisters were already playing for the Birmingham Thunderbolts, an elite travel organization that is, year in and year out, one of the best programs in the country.
By the time next year came around, Hannah was the best player in the league and a seasoned veteran at the ripe age of six. That year on her team she met a new girl named Katie Flannery.
Katie was new to softball but had been playing soccer and thought she was the six-year-old version of Mia Hamm. She was pretty tall for her age and very athletic, but had no experience throwing, catching or hitting; still, she worked hard and enjoyed the game.
Hannah and Katie led their team to a league championship and headed into All-Stars. After winning Area and then a strong finish at State, the All-Star team decided to join the world of travel ball.
As a first-year 8U travel ball team, the Red Storm suffered beat-downs that should have been criminal. The kids got better, but at that age, it’s difficult to compete with older girls and the defeats reflected the age and experience gap.
Still, the team improved as fall turned into spring and then into summer. There was definite potential for the team to be very good as a second-year 8U team. The Red Storm knew that Hannah would leave the team after summer as she was definitely going to be a Birmingham Thunderbolt, just like her older sisters.
The Thunderbolts always start a new team in second-year 8U, so for Hannah, it was just a matter of being old enough.
Katie, on the other hand, was still relatively new to the travel ball world and the idea of leaving a team full of friends who were all from the same area was a little scary. Still, she decided to go with Hannah to the Thunderbolts tryouts, just to see what it looked like.
If you haven’t been to the Thunderbolts facility, it’s hard to describe how impressive it is.
The multimillion-dollar complex boasts two turf fields, a dirt field, hitting cages outside and inside and a turf indoor workout area for weights, agility and fielding. It’s easy to see why kids and parents are enamored and Katie Flannery was no exception.
Hannah, of course, had been there multiple times to see her sisters practice and play, but for Katie and her family, the whole thing seemed larger than life. Still, both girls easily made the team and their careers as Bolts began.
Coach Lowell Barron said Katie was “an easily projectable player with good range, quick collection, short transfer and a plus arm.” He knew Hannah “had the instincts of a player whose sister, Maddie, is now in the SEC at Mississippi State, with tremendous reactions with good glove and good footwork.”
The Bolts were immediately one of the top teams in the Southeast and won multiple tournaments. Katie and Hannah anchored the middle infield on a team loaded with talent.
After an extremely successful 8U season, the team left the world of coach pitch and moved up to 10U where they were once again the little kids.
There aren’t many things in this world more painful than watching first-year 10U teams play softball right after the transition from coach pitch. There are only a few kids who pitch the ball well at that age and walks rule the diamond.
The fall was miserable but the Bolts pitchers improved and by the end of the season they were once again a very good team in 10U.
What is a game of pure power in 8U turns into a game of speed in 10U. Slapping and bunting become a huge part of the game, especially for players like Hannah who hit from the left side and are already quick.
Coach Lowell put Katie behind the plate figuring that a good shortstop probably would make a decent catcher.
After a good fall, but mediocre by Bolts standards, the two girls played basketball for a local travel team. The daughter of a basketball coach, Katie had been playing basketball since kindergarten.
The minimum age was 1st grade in a league of 1st-to-3rd graders but her dad lied about her age so she could play up. Now as a 3rd grader she was playing AAU with nationally ranked Southern Starz out of Huntsville, Alabama.
In their ‘spare’ time, the Flannery family decided to get some Trussville girls together for some local travel basketball. After reaching out to a couple of families, including Brooklyn Allison and Kenleigh Cahalan (Thunderbolts 05 – Cahalan), there were a total of eight girls willing to play.
Not having any idea how basketball would turn out, the girls went through their first season undefeated.
Still, watching that group of kids play basketball was chaos at its finest. They ran and pressed and ran some more, beating everybody easily in that first year. For the most part, it was just a bunch of softball kids, four of which were Bolts, who were super competitive and loved hanging out together.
It certainly seemed like a good way to pass the time between fall ball and spring ball. At that point, nobody had any idea what a big deal basketball would become for many of the girls. Right after the season ended, the Bolts started workouts again and tournaments were soon to follow.
The next couple of years went the same way. The Bolts continued to have success and in the offseason the girls would play more and more competitive basketball and would never lose.
The biggest transition for the Bolts would come when Coach Lowell Barron, who started the team in 8U, moved to take over the Bolts 03 team. Having daughters on both teams, Lowell’s departure was understandable, but sad for everyone.
Ted Flannery, Katie’s father, took over as head coach, but Lowell never was too far away, making sure that “his girls” were always progressing and improving. Not only did the coach change, but as is bound to happen, there was a little turnover with the team every year.
The commitment required to play on a team like the Bolts can be overwhelming and attrition is inevitable, but season after season, the girls kept riding to practice together, kept working, and kept growing up together.
Over the next couple of seasons, Katie bounced back and forth between shortstop and third base (and occasionally catcher) while Hannah held down second base. By the end of 10U the team had lost almost all of its players since its inception three years prior, but Hannah and Katie were mainstays.
In the winter, Hannah and Katie would play basketball with their Trussville friends on the same team. They gained a couple of players and continued to dominate. The Trussville Huskies team got a significant amount of publicity locally, going undefeated for four straight years, finishing their careers 52-0.
With 7th grade around the corner for the girls, school ball would begin and open a new chapter for them (in Alabama, all school sports begin in the 7th grade).
Even with the excitement that came from every successful basketball season, it was always just a way to pass time and stay in shape for the Thunderbolts and the girls always looked forward to the season starting in early Spring.
The Fall of 2017 was the beginning of 7th grade for the two friends who had been playing ball together for literally half of their lives.
Hannah and Katie had long looked forward to playing together in school, but at first it didn’t look like it was going to happen. Both girls tried out for 7th grade volleyball and made the team, but Hannah impressed in tryouts and was pulled up to the 8th grade team.
One of her coaches said, “Hannah is a fiercely determined athlete that seeks to succeed in everything she does. Whether on the court or the ball field, she is singularly focused on the task in front of her in order to better herself as a player.”
Both girls earned All-Conference honors for their respective volleyball teams.
Last fall, both girls were also supposed to travel to Baton Rouge for the USSSA Elite Select 30, but Hannah suffered a concussion playing volleyball and sadly couldn’t go although Katie went without her friend and was selected to the USSSA Elite Select 30 team.
In the winter, both girls tried out for basketball, but this time it was Katie’s turn to be pulled up to the 8th grade team. Again, they played for the same school in the same sport but weren’t playing together.
And, again, they both earned All-Conference honors for their respective teams. The 8th grade team went undefeated and won the school’s first league championship and Katie was pulled up to varsity after the middle school season.
One of her coaches said, “Katie is one of the most positive athletes I’ve had the privilege of coaching. Not only does she work hard at everything she does, but she makes it all look effortless as she is doing it.”
Softball season came in the spring, and both girls finally played together on a school team. The softball season was dominant, which has come to be expected for 7A powerhouse, Hewitt Trussville.
Hannah batted 1st or 2nd all year long, leading the team in hits, singles and batting average, hitting a gaudy .635 with a .667 OBP. Katie was right behind, her batting .607 with a .657 OBP in the clean-up position and also led the team in slugging percentage, doubles, triples and RBIs.
The team earned a Metro Championship, finishing the season with only one loss all year. Both Hannah and Katie, along with Bolt 05 standout, Kenleigh Cahalan, were then pulled up to varsity for the remainder of the season even though all are just 7th graders playing with girls up to five years older.
Hewitt Trussville is a powerhouse 7A program in Alabama and is making another run at state having won its last game on Wednesday 20-1 in playoff competition and is now 44-8.
Once the softball season ends, the girls will quickly transition back to wearing the purple and gold of the Thunderbolts as they jump in to travel ball season yet again.
As if their softball and basketball successes aren’t impressive enough, Hannah and Katie are both straight A students who are being recruited by some of the top universities in the East and Southeast as two of the top prospects in the 2023 class.
While neither of them planned on committing before high school, the new rule change takes that option off the table completely. They talk about their futures, even joke about committing together just to make sure they stay together, but they both say they are not too worried about college yet.
Hannah’s parents, Keith and Emily Dorsett, have been through the process already with Maddie (Mississippi State) and Abigail (Thunderbolts 01) and say they are in no hurry for Hannah to make a decision.
“We are going to let her weigh her options, as she gets older,” they say.
Katie’s parents, Ted and Rachel Flannery, are riding the recruiting roller coaster for the first time and are taken by surprise at all the attention Katie and the Thunderbolts 04 are receiving. Katie already has her favorite schools, but her parents are making her wait to see what the future holds for her.
But, as always happens in life, before you can blink, the frenzy of summer ball will be over and the girls will begin their last year of middle school. They will still ride together to practices, take classes together, play school sports together, and grow together.
The following year they will start high school and by the time they finish high school, the then-18-year-olds will be able to say they have played ball together for 13 years.
Hannah and Katie will have travelled from Virginia to Colorado to California and back together.
They will see the country one softball park at a time, and they will make countless friends thanks to softball and growing up as Birmingham Thunderbolts… and best buds surely for many more years to come.