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From Rebel to Juggernaut

June 08, 2005|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

Alison Higgs is a walking testimonial to the power of traveling-team softball.

The 2001 South Hagerstown High School graduate made good use of the Frederick Heartbreakers organization, locking down a scholarship to Iona College - an NCAA Division I program. Four years later, armed with a college degree and an extensive list of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and National Fastpitch Coaches Association awards, Higgs has signed a pro contract with the New York Juggernauts, the unforeseen next step in her career.

"It's just crazy. It's mind-blowing," Higgs said Monday via cell phone from New York. "In high school my dream was to play Division I softball. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing left for me, and now this opportunity came about. It's unbelievable. It's a dream come true."

Higgs credits a lot of her success to her years as part of the Heartbreakers.

"Travel ball was what basically gave me every opportunity and what I have now," Higgs said. "If I hadn't played for them, I wouldn't be where I am at all. To me, travel ball is a necessity if you want to play in college or beyond college."

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Hundreds of other players hope to follow in Higgs' footsteps.

Forty traveling teams converged on Washington County last weekend as part of the Thunder PONY Qualifier, a tournament featuring teams in the 18U, 16U, 14U, 12U and 10U age groups, hosted by the Tri-State Thunder, a traveling team in its fourth year of existence. Many of the area's most talented high school players participated in the 18U and 16U tournaments, and plenty of them surely hoped to be noticed by the college coaches present at the tournament's four locations.

"This is where colleges come to find players," said Heartbreakers 18U coach Terry Burdette on Saturday. "They can't really go to the high school games because that's during their season."

"I can go to one or two fields and I can see five games in one day and see the top players from each high school all in one day," Hagerstown Community College coach Dave Brooks said. "This is a luxury, when you can see seven or eight teams and see them each play four or five times. High school ball is good, but travel ball is really where the talent is. All the best players in the area play travel ball."

Jefferson High School junior Courtni Williams is one player hoping to draw attention from colleges this summer.

"Courtni is definitely Division I material, and this is her big year," Thunder 18U coach Missy Cutchall said. "She could go somewhere. If you're playing travel ball, by your junior year you've sent tapes to all the colleges and they know who you are."

Williams said the biggest challenge for her is maintaining a positive mindset through the ups and downs of the game - which are more difficult to handle facing tougher competition.

"You always have to keep a good attitude," Williams said. "If you make a mistake and get your head down, college coaches cross you off their list. It's hard because I get so mad at myself. I have to tell myself to stay calm."

It's not easy when you have the self-imposed pressure of playing well enough to earn a scholarship riding on every pitch or swing.

"You're there for a reason, you're there to get recruited," Higgs said. "Being on that team, that's what you're playing for, to get looked at."

Sometimes, it works out better than the player ever imagined.

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