College softball teams enjoying their spring training
Walking into the North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex is a lot like walking into the Pirates training camp in Bradenton, Florida.
Meticulously-manicured softball diamonds, eight in all, are buzzing with activity, as ninety Division II and D-III teams converge on the Diamond Dreams Spring Classic, a tournament-type spring training experience for colleges from Iowa to Texas and New York to Georgia.
“Most of these teams can’t get on a field back home until April, so they’re getting ahead of the game and getting out of the gymnasium,” said event coordinator Dale Warner, who started the Diamond Dreams Classic in 2007 with just eight teams. “It’s a big commitment for these programs to come here, and we try to match them up competitively.”
Teams come and go throughout the two-week window of play, coinciding with many college spring break dates. Coaches opt for as few as eight and as many as a dozen games, giving their plyers valuable experience and team-building opportunities.
Head Coach Andrea Guttman is beginning her first year at the helm of the Mount Aloysius program after serving as the team’s assistant coach. The former MAC Athlete of the Year is using the Diamond Dreams event to build her roster and prepare for Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference competition.
“We’re evaluating talent,” she said, after a hard-fought one-run loss to Kings College, “figuring out who’s going to play where, and getting the team outside and on a real field. We’re looking for some consistency.”
There is no champion crowned in this event, and though the games count toward teams’ overall records, the wins and losses are not nearly as important as the experience itself.
Teams from warm-weather climates may take it for granted as they practice outdoors year-round. This spring training event allows Pennsylvania pitchers and catchers the chance to see batters in other uniforms; infielders to field bad-hops on real dirt and outfielders to shag flies with the sun in their eyes.
Spring break trips like this were once a luxury only for D-I programs, but the sport of softball has evolved and become more competitive within the life of the Diamond Dreams event.
“We’ve seen it’s more professional with the coaches, more professional with athletic training and we see better athletes,” Warner said. “The softball players have gotten bigger, faster, stronger. It’s amazing how much the sport has grown even in the last decade.”
Warner credits the maturation of Title IX for the improvements, giving valuable resources to women’s programs; but also tips the cap to colleges who make a commitment to their programs.
“The caliber of the coaches and the schools’ philosophies of what they want their teams to achieve makes the difference,” Warner said.
For the Mounties, who finished the 2017 campaign at 18-18, spring training is the first step toward some bigger goals. Back in Cresson, another winter storm may be on the horizon, but in college softball, and in Myrtle Beach, spring has sprung.
Goodman Shaffer can be reached at email@example.com