Jessica Lusk and Avalon Grass have been teammates many times over the years as they’ve moved up the ranks with the Langford Lightning in girls fastpitch softball.
Lusk, 16 and Grass, 17, played together this past season on the Vancouver Island Impact under-18A travel team and are united once again on the Canada Futures Collegiate Showcase team. The fellow Belmont secondary Grade 12s leave next week for a competitive trip that will see them travel to Seattle, then head south to Georgia and Alabama, where they’ll play 10 games against junior college and NAIA-level ((National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) teams.
The goal is to give the players not only a chance to play a high level of ball and get a taste of post-secondary life – they’ll bus it from college to college like old-time barnstormers – but perform in front of scouts and coaches who recruit for college teams in the U.S.
“We don’t get much opportunity living on the Island to see scouts and university coaches and all that,” said Lusk, who is primarily a pitcher but also plays shortstop and third base. “Going over to the Mainland and playing B.C. (rep) teams – B.C. is known for U-18 softball – so it’s hard competing with them, but we’re up there. I’m excited just to see some new faces.”
Jacquelyn Novak, who coached the girls with the Impact and is in her first year as an assistant coach with the Futures team, said they’ve shown a real commitment and dedication to getting better, through attending regular weekend practices on the mainland and working out together at home. As such, they have demonstrated a level of coachability that any team or coach would welcome, she added.
“The excellence is in the details. To get up to a certain level requires a certain amount of discipline, but to push past that it takes real dedication,” she said.
Lusk and Grass, who plays right field, first base and catcher, took part in the Beyond the White Lines Academy in August and were invited to join the Futures team along with 34 other players from across Western Canada.
While there’s been back and forth trips to the mainland for training, the opportunity to go on a major road trip like this one is exciting, Grass said.
“My teams have never travelled a lot, and with (the Impact) we went so many places with each other and got so much closer as a team,” she said.
“The opportunity to go somewhere with a team of girls – I only know a couple of them but we’ve really bonded well together – it’s like one big family.”
To gain more higher-level playing time, the Impact played in the Victoria-Saanich Women’s Softball Association at Hyacinth Park. While it proved to be a tough go in their first season, Lusk said, the young squad “definitely improved towards the end of the year.”
“That was fun, playing experienced ball players and meeting new girls,” she added.
Novak said the games against college teams will be a good test for the young Canadians.
“It does give them an opportunity that not every player gets,” she said.
One stop on the busy tour will see them take in a practice at Auburn University in Alabama, home of the 2015 NCAA No. 3-ranked Tigers women’s softball team. “Just the exposure to the coaching styles and the rigour and the dedication that the college athletes show sets a good example for the athletes that do choose to (pursue a college career).”
Sharing the softball load … As a way to defray the $2,000 individual cost of the U.S. trip, Lusk and Grass have set up a fundraiser page at gofundme.com/dh4mpu3c. Anyone wishing to assist them in achieving their goal can donate on that site.