Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chelsea Zgrabik Steps Into Justin’s World

Chelsea Zgrabik may be a name that is only familiar to Atlantic Sun and long-time Team USA fans, which is an unfortunate shame. A stellar player on a somewhat-underwhelming team, Zgrabik’s star shined brightly during her entire career in an Eagles uniform.

That's Chelsea in the middle of the bottom row
of this Eagles pyramid
In her final three seasons as a collegiate athlete, Chelsea started all but four of the games she played in. A three-time all-conference selection, Chelsea clubbed forty-two home runs over that same time period.

A two-year member of the Team USA Junior Women’s National Team, Chelsea took home two championship gold medals during her time in the red, white, and blue, helping Team USA reign supreme at the 2010 Pan Am Games and 2011 World Championship.

Chelsea was named the ASun co-player of the year in 2013, and in her senior season was an all-conference first team selection and an academic all-conference.

Interviewing Chelsea is certainly a new highlight of my career. This interview is lengthy, but I highly recommend you take the time to read it. It’s THAT good. Chelsea is a storyteller, and she does an incredible job at passing along several anecdotes from different points in her career.

Justin’s World: How did you get started playing the game of softball?

Chelsea Zgrabik: I honestly don't think there was one reason why I started playing softball, but I was a multi-sport child when I was younger. I pretty much did everything. I played basketball, soccer, softball; I played ice hockey for a year; did horse back riding; taekwondo; I almost did it all. I did all of that when I lived in Ohio and when I moved to Florida in 7th grade, I realized that I was not going to be able to do everything so I really had to make a decision and choose one. So I picked softball. I was between basketball and soccer as the other two choices, but I wasn't a big fan of running and I felt like I excelled more at softball! And it stuck.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Where Are They Now: Scout Albertson

Who is she? Scout Albertson, former starting third baseman for the North Carolina State Wolfpack.

What is she known for? Albertson started 140 games over the final three seasons of her career with the Pack. Her finest season came in 2012, her junior campaign, when she hit .282 and clubbed twelve home runs. Four of those home runs came in a single day in March during a tournament that the Pack hosted.

Here's something interesting... Upon her move to her current residence in Buffalo, New York, Scout is living outside the state of North Carolina for the very first time in her life.

What's she up to now? Scout is currently working as project manager for two small, niche agencies in New York. One of the agencies, Identitee Management, works with charities to create events for athletes and help raise awareness for their various causes. The 2nd agency has Scout creating marketing and other strategies to give their clients a "creative edge". Thanks to relationships with current and former athletes and others, Scout gets to enjoy lots of perks, including going to all the Buffalo Bills games.

Contact information: Scout is on Facebook, and you can find her on Twitter and Instagram @scout6albertson.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tammy Williams Inducted into Northwestern Athletics Hall of Fame

Northwestern Wildcats softball legend & Chicago Bandits all-pro shortstop Tammy Williams will be inducted into the school's hall of fame, the school announced last week.

Part of a seven-member Class of 2014, Williams is one of two female athletes being inducted this year.

Williams, a four-time All American during her time as a Wildcat, was chosen for induction in her first year of eligibility on the ballot. She is the sixth Cats softballer to take her place in the school's Cooperstown.
AP Photo/Fernando Llano //

A two-time conference Player of the Year in addition to her all-America honors, Williams played in every Wildcats game during her time in purple and white. She was named conference Freshman of the Year in 2006 and was a three-time finalist for National Player of the Year.

"TWill", as she is affectionately known to fans, led the Cat to the Women's College World Series twice, earning all-tournament honors both times. Even to the present day, the red-headed shortstop holds the school career records for batting average, home runs, runs, and hits.

Originally JuCo-bound, Williams took advantage of a right-time, right-place scenario to catch the attention of head coach Kate Drohan and join the Cats. She has made the most of the opportunity with a professional career that still continues.

A two-time NPF Defensive Player of the Year, Williams also gathered serious MVP consideration this season as she led the Bandits. She set career-high marks in 2014 in both home runs (9) and RBI (31).

Williams also won two tournament gold medals as a member of Team USA in 2010. In addition to spending her summers with the Bandits, Williams currently serves as an assistant coach on Eugene Lenti's staff at DePaul.

Five Additional Athletes Invited to Team USA Tryouts

Five athletes have been invited to Team USA tryouts in January, the organization announced in a press release last week.

Clockwise: Bell; Crane; Elkins; Wilson; Stephens
Photos courtesy Team USA
Juniors Bianka Bell of LSU; Emily Crane of Missouri; Lexie Elkins of Louisiana-Lafayette; and Lindsey Stephens of the Texas Longhorns, along with senior Paige Wilson of Georgia, will work out with Ken Eriksen’s national squad with the hope of putting on the red, white, and blue next summer.

Crane is the only member of the quintet with Team USA experience, having played on the Junior Women’s National Team in 2013.

The additions take the number of players in camp to thirty-three. Only one number higher than the original list of thirty-two, the five fill holes left by four departed veteran players in Nicole Hudson, Destinee Martinez, Jessica Plaza, and Hallie Wilson. Worthy of note is that, with year of national team experience between the vets, they are effectively being replaced by Team USA rookies.

The changes bring the makeup of the squad to four 2012 graduates; five 2013 graduates; three 2014 graduates; nine seniors; eleven juniors; and one lone sophomore in Tennessee’s Annie Aldrete.

Nine pitchers will enter camp, along with five catchers; thirteen infielders; and six outfielders. Some players, such as Amanda Chidester and Ally Carda, will be relied upon at more than one position if they make the squad.

Friday, November 21, 2014

White, Enquist to be Among Eight HOF Inductees in 2015

Following last week's induction of the seven-member class of 2014 into the National Softball Hall of Fame, the eight-member induction class of 2015 was announced.

A couple of the names will be very familiar to even just casual softball fans. Oregon head man Mike White and legendary former UCLA skipper Sue Enquist headline next year's inductees.

Though he has established himself over the last few years as one of the best in the biz as a coach, White will be inducted as a player, where he first came to prominence.

Enauist, she of 887 career victories and the highest winning percentage among any coach with at least 800 wins, is the winningest coach in Bruins history and was inducted into the NFCA Hall of Fame in 2006; the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 2008; and the UCLA Hall of Fame in 1993.

The full class of 2015 inductees includes umpires Mark Ingrao and Bonnie Anderson; slow pitch player John Davide; fast pitch players White & Steve Padilla; commissioner Andy Dooley; as well as Enquist and Charles Moss, who will be inducted under the meritorious service heading. Anderson's induction is a posthumous one.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Where Are They Now: Kristi Marquez

Who is she? Kristi Marquez, the former starting third baseman for the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. 

What is she known for? Kristi started at 3rd for all four of her seasons at MTSU. Despite starting and playing in 169 games over four years, Kristi's first career home run didn't come until a few weeks into her senior season. She also played for the Puerto Rican national team.
Photo cred: Natalie Ysais
Here's something interesting... Kristi's career in athletics began in Little League Baseball, not softball. She played five years in Little League before beginning her softball career in middle school. She skipped a year of ball as she entered high school, but impressed over her final three years and earned a collegiate scholarship.

What's she up to now? Kristi is a personal trainer, certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. She owns her own personal training business and offers training that is individualized & designed specifically to meet client goals. Kristi helped coach at her alma mater after her career ended and before her graduation. She also worked in the strength and conditioning department during that time.

Quotable quotes: "I want to use personal training as a vehicle to show people how improving their health and fitness can impact their lives in a very positive way. I want to share with others the impact of my own personal experience, and transfer some of my passion into their own lives... my ultimate goal as a trainer is to help others build confidence and momentum."

Contact information: .Kristi's website is still in the works, but you can find her on all of the major social networks, including Facebook; Twitter; Instagram; LinkedIn; and Pinterest

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Whatever happened to the Dutch?

In February of 2013, the NPF made an exciting announcement - a long-awaited fifth team would join the league and begin competition immediately, but with a twist.

The uniqueness of the announcement came in the form of the fifth team being none other than the Dutch National Team. The Netherlanders would play a mostly-full schedule, even arranging around major international competitions, against the other four teams in the NPF and would, for all intents and purposes, be considered a part of the league. 

Whether it was a long-term bargain or simply a one-year pact, a legitimate query, was inconsequential for many fans - the league was finally growing and adding!

In the months between the early-spring announcement and the mid-summer start of the season, however, all of those plans disappeared and when the season rolled around, it was the same ole, same ole. No Dutch, no fifth team at all, and, most importantly, no mention of what had occurred or why the excitement of months earlier was all for naught.

The roster had been set, so getting agreements to play wasn't the issue. Neither was the NCAA's rules on amateurism - the two Dutch players with eligibility remaining were to sit out all games against NPF opponents.

In search of clarity and, as Regis Philbin might say, the final answer, I asked one person that I knew could fill in the blank: league commissioner Cheri Kempf.

As always, the commissioner was glad to respond to my queries and clarified why the plan to include the Dutch never came to pass. "The fact that the Dutch team was
considering coming into the league was a plan that never really came to fruition," she told me. "The reason for that was that there was no owner willing to come into the league and take on a new team at that time... it was financing. The reason we thought we were close was because a potential owner did exist and went down to the wire in making the decision."

This explanation makes sense, even more so when noting this paragraphical statement on an article covering the NPF's original announcement: 
                     "Accommodation and transport in the US during NPF will be covered by an American 
                     “owner” of the Dutch team. Otherwise expenses are covered by the players, which 
                     voted unanimously to start into this adventure."

I've been an unbiased critic of the NPF in the past, praising and critiquing when one or the other felt deserved. In this case, I believe a bit of both is warranted. 

On the praising hand, the league showed proactiveness and outside-the-box thinking in the Dutch even considering coming over to be part of the league. And while Kempf noted that no plans are in place for an international team to become part of the league in the near future, she said that "the NPF is always open to that". This is good.

On the other hand, a bit of constructive criticism is also due. Why make the announcement without a signed, sealed, and delivered contract in-hand from both parties? It's understandable that the league, like many fans, got caught up in the excitement of growth in the long-stagnant four-team league, but that is still no excuse for premature press releases. The lack of an announcement as to why the inclusion of the Dutch disappeared as quickly as it had appeared only served to exacerbate the problem.

If the league continues to be of a proactive mindset in the same way they showed to be here, it could be good for a league that is still trying to maintain four solid teams, and barely even able to consider expansion beyond that.