I’m often asked how I got into softball editorially, covering the sport and compiling the national rankings including what has evolved into the Extra Elite 100 player rankings.
It started for me in 2006 when I was working for a Torrance, California-based company Student Sports that, to this day, dominates in high school football events including the Elite 11 QB Camps and The Opening Combines and some of the best people I've ever known in my career.
At that time, I was asked by my boss and mentor, Andy Bark, to start a softball website to promote a Nike-sponsored initiative that would also be involving baseball and soccer.
That’s how StudentSportsSoftball.com began and my entry into softball full-time (My oldest daughter, Brittany, played club softball and soccer so I was more “experienced” with softball than anyone else in the company!).
Having been in the high school editorial space for a while—three years later (2009) I would move to Connecticut to work for ESPN when the media giant got into high school sports—I knew that LISTS are the way to grab peoples’ attention.
Yea, that was an understatement with my first big article in softball!
In April of 2006, as StudentSportsSoftball.com began, I put up an article on the site titled The Top 10 Softball Clubs in the US.
I got the info by surveying about two dozen college and club coaches across the nation and I thought it was a positive way to start down the fastpitch path, honoring the teams that the top club coaches recommended.
Remember: at that time I really didn’t know a Batbuster from a Shamrock from a Firecracker from a Pepper. I relied on the coaches’ opinions and input and put together what I thought was a nice article.
And I/the article was drilled!
Though it was on a premium site, the piece was copied and printed on Ultimate College Softball (robocoach) on a message board and the criticisms were, well, opinionated… here are some of them:
- “Didn't do all of their homework... tisk tisk.”
- “I'm sorry but Sorcerers Laura Feirera? That's something to laugh out loud about. Try Becky Mcullough or junior superstar Valerie Arioto. I must stop looking at list and picking out imperfections.”
- “That article started on eteamz and is part of a money making organization where you pay a subscription fee to be able to access their webpage. I say go back to eteamz.” Editor’s Note: wrong… had nothing to do with eteamz.
- My favorite one, though, had to be this one: “What this all comes down to is the fact that studentsports.com rankings aren't a poll at all but a couple of guys often uninformed opinions (Editor’s Note: well, it was ME, one guy compiling it doing the work of a couple! haha)… Thanks to Robo, we can post our opinions on this board and then others can come and vet our facts and post counter opinions. Studentsports.com posts their rankings as news articles without any polling of coaches and experts. There is no check and balance to what they post and, unfortunately, several people take what they say as authoritative.”
What was hilarious to me is that the writer—named ‘the fanatic”— based that comment on info that CAME directly from top club fastpitch coaches!!!
“Without polling of coaches and experts”… that’s ALL I knew to do at that point in terms of softball editorial!
Fortunately for my wounded ego there were some positive comments too:
- “I'm very happy someone took the time to write a good article on top travel programs.”
- "Good list. Has the usual suspects, but nice to see some out-of-California teams."
That taught me very quickly that, in this passionate sports world, you have to vet your info and have reasons for the opinions because someone is going to hold you accountable!
Here is the text of that first article… see what you think of where the club softball landscape was back in the Summer of 2006!
Were there holes in it?
I'm sure, but it taught me very quickly in that summer to always be on my toes with the softball world--for the fastpitch community is an observant and very, very caring one that doesn't suffer fools lightly.
-- Brentt Eads, President/Executive Editor of Extra Inning Softball
Top 10 Softball Clubs in the US
Originally published April 5, 2006 on StudentSportsSoftball.com (no longer a live site)
StudentSportsSoftball.com spoke to experts around the country to get their feedback and focused primarily on the following criteria 1) overall club status, reputation and winning records, 2) development of players, 3) players going to the next level, 4) strength of the older teams, especially 18U, and 5) coaching expertise.
Sure it's subjective, but it sure is fun to debate and argue about who the top softball club programs are!
1. O.C. Batbusters (Santa Ana, CA)
Gary Haning's program has won 17 championships from 12U to 18U and he has coached future Olympians and USA team members ranging from Laura Berg to Gillian Boxx to Jamie Clark. Current loaded 18U team is highlighted by a pair of All-Americans headed to Arizona: pitcher Amanda Williams and catcher Stacie Chambers. Almost to a person, from club coach to college coach, O.C. Batbusters was inevitably the first name mentioned of the top club teams in the country.
2. California Cruisers (La Palma, CA)
One of the oldest and most prestigious clubs in the nation, the Cruisers go back to the early '90's when Jenny Finch led her 12U and 14U teams to ASA titles. More recently, won a national title in 1999 and was runner-up in 2001 and 2004. Current big-name alums include former ASA All-American Haley Woods (Cal) and college All-American Lauren Lappin (Stanford).
3. Worth Firecrackers (Huntington Beach, CA)
Winner of the 2005 Champions Cup with a win over the SoCal A's, the Firecrackers may have more talent player-for-player than any other program in 2006. Current major D-I talent includes pitcher K'Lee Arrendodno (signed with Arizona), pitcher/first baseman Megan Langenfeld (UCLA), and infielder Molly Bausher (Michigan).
4. Shamrocks (Vienna, VA)
The defending 18U ASA Gold National Champions, which also came in second in 2003, are led by 36-year coaching veteran Tommy Orndorff, who has placed a dozen players on the instate universities, Virginia and Virginia Tech. One top club manager said the Shamrocks are always well prepared and battle to the last out.
5. Southern Cal Athletics (Montclair, CA)
One of the most dominant programs in the late '90's, winning the 1999 ASA 18U Gold National Championship behind current UCLA senior Amanda Simpson after finishing 2nd in '98 and 3rd in '97. The Bruins also inked a current member of the SoCal A's in one of the nation's top third basemen, Julie Burney.
6. Impact Gold (Houston, TX)
One reason the Texas Longhorns are strong (well, besides having Cat Osterman of course!) is the pipeline from Impact Gold, which finished fourth at the 2005 ASA Gold Nationals. UT signed Impact outfielder Kori Cook, who was a teammate of current Texas players Kacie Gaskin and Crystal Saenz. Two others, infielder Alex Reynolds and pitcher Emily Shadow, are headed to Texas A&M.
7. Sorcerer (San Ramon, CA)
The Gold team pulled off the rare feat of winning back-to-back 18A ASA national titles in 2002 and 2003. Head coach Phil Mumma, who has coached at every level from high school to JO Developmental, has put two dozen players into the college ranks in recent years including pitcher Laura Ferreira (Fresno State) and infielder Emily Friedman (Cal).
8. Arizona Hotshots (Tempe, AZ)
Runners-up to the Shamrocks for the 18U ASA title, the Rick Jones-led team has to replace some key parts, including Ohio State-bound All-American pitcher Kim Reed, but players like infielder Caylyn Carlson (Arizona State) and pitcher Marissa Drewrey (Cal) should help pick up the slack. One Top 10 club coach said, "The Hotshots are relative newcomers on the scene, but they are the real deal. They have a lot of weapons and can beat you in so, so many ways. I really believe that they are the team to beat going into summer ball."
9. Georgia Elite (Atlanta, GA)
Two years ago, the 18-U team finished fifth at nationals and is expected to rebound after a disappointing 2005. This year's Gold Elite lineup includes four college signees with a pair, outfielder Adele Voight and catcher/infielder Anna Johnson, going to South Carolina.
10. Kansas City Peppers (Kansas City, MO)
Coached by Dan Eakin, the top program in the Midwest has five players who are, or will be, college bound on the 2006 team including pitcher Lauren Delaney and Emily Haug, both going to Northwestern.
BEST OF THE REST
Arizona Heatwave (Tempe, AZ)
Killer Bees (Phoenix, AZ)
Li'l Saints (Phoenix, AZ)
Phoenix Storm (Phoenix, AZ)
Sun Cats (Phoenix, AZ)
Tucson Cats (Tucson, AZ)
American Pastime (Upland, CA)
Anaheim OC Batbusters (Garden Grove, CA)
Corona Angels (Corona, CA)
Fresno Force (Fresno, CA)
Gordon's Panthers (Canyon Lake, CA)*
Runnin Rebels (Stockton, CA)
San Diego Co. Breakers (Carlsbad, CA)
San Diego Thunder (San Diego, CA)
San Jose Strikkers (San Jose, CA)
Valley Breeze Gold (Agoura, CA)
Team Smith (Yorba Linda, CA)
West Bay Nuggets (Burlingame, CA)
Gold Coast Hurricanes (Plantation, FL)
Georgia Elite Gold (Douglasville, GA)
Southern Force (Johnston City, IL)
Indiana Magic (Indianapolis, IN)
New Jersey Beach Girls (NJ)
Oregon Sun Supply (Portland, OR)
Blast Gold (Beaumont, TX)
Houston Power (Houston, TX)
Katy Cruisers (Katy, TX)
Rapid Fire (Houston, TX)
Sudden Impact (Spring/Klein, TX)
Texas Eclipse (Magnolia, TX)
Texas Hawks (Houston, TX)
Texas Storm (Pearland, TX)
Vancouver Ford (Vancouver, WA)
Washington LadyHawks (Seattle, WA)
* team disbanded in Aug. 2005, but makes the list as the launching pad for Lisa Fernandez, Julie Adams, Stacy Nuveman and many others