The Ulster Fillies held their second annual Fillies Showcase at Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex in Saugerties last weekend. It was a unique opportunity for local high school softball players to be seen by college coaches without having to travel far from home.
Unlike other tournaments the Fillies compete in, including their own Fillies Frenzy held at Cantine in mid-June, the Fillies Showcase is less a bracketed tournament with a clear champion and more a combination of a pre-game clinic followed by a weekend’s worth of games designed to give players a chance to show their abilities in front of college coaches.
Rick Spriggs is the coach liaison and tournament director of the Fillies, a fast-pitch softball organization sponsored by American Legion Post 150 in Kingston. Spriggs is also the head coach of the Fillies 18U team. But he stressed that the Fillies Showcase isn’t just about the Fillies, who had three different teams among the 37 who competed.
“It’s all about the Hudson Valley region and the lack of true college showcases for the teams in this area to be recruited,” said Spriggs. “There just isn’t anything like this here. We’ve had to take our kids to Pennsylvania or Connecticut.”
In addition to the 18U team, the Fillies fielded a pair of 16U teams as well. Over the three-day tournament, the players were seen by coaches from colleges all across New York and the Northeast. On Friday, July 13, a college coaches clinic was held from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., with the weekend’s first games being played an hour later. 23 coaches participated in the clinic, giving them a unique opportunity to work with the 106 campers from five different states. The camp was deemed a success by players and coaches alike.
“I had several coaches say they’ve been invited to several clinics and across the board they said this was the best one they’d done,” Spriggs said. “Cantine is a perfect location with the number of fields and the compression of the park to minimize travel. Most tournaments there are multiple venues and coaches have to travel from field to field, sometimes as much as a half hour or 45 minutes to go see a player.”
For the most part, high school softball players will have committed to a college sometime during the summer between their junior and senior seasons, though Spriggs said a few will wait until the fall. All but three of the girls on the Fillies 18U team are committed to play in college, so the showcase is more of a tournament, with the clinic an opportunity for the players to become even more familiar with the rigors and expectations of post-high school softball.
“For our older players, they’ve established a lot of relationships, so it gives them responsibility in organizing and getting to know the coaches, to ask more personal questions of what’s going to be expected of them once they get to the college level,” Spriggs said. “It’s a very educational thing.”
Players on 16U teams are generally still looking to find a home after high school, and the Fillies Showcase lets them show what they’re capable of without hitting the road.
Erin Ricks is one of two Saugerties Sawyers on the Fillies 16U team. Ricks and Jade Winters are both outfielders from Saugerties High’s Class of 2019. Ricks said she enjoys playing for both the Sawyers and Fillies, but the latter provides a clearer path to competing in college.
“The Fillies allows for more potential college exposure and brings the game to a whole different level,” she said. “The competition is more varied compared to high school.”
Ricks said that she got a lot out of the Fillies Showcase, though she’s reluctant to speak of her favored college destinations for fear of jinxing anything. Wherever she winds up, she’d like to study to become an athletic trainer.
“I’ve talked to other colleges before and I’ve been to a showcase before,” Ricks said. “But my experience this weekend went beyond my expectations as I was exposed to many college coaching styles and was able to put my game skills into practice during the tournament.”
Spriggs said players hoping to connect with a coach or college have to put in the work, not just on the field in showcase tournaments, but also later by reaching out and showing an interest in particular programs. College coaches attending showcase tournaments will compare notes and decide which payers they’d like to contact, opening up a two-way street that for many will lead to college softball and the possibility of athletic scholarships.
Like most of the players on the Fillies, Ricks has been with the organization from early on. There are 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U and 18U Fillies teams, and there are tryouts later this month and into August for all but the 18U College Team, which Spriggs said will have no vacancies going into next season. Teams play in fall tournaments, with some having winter workouts or tournaments ahead of the following summer.
“Most of my more successful girls have been Fillies all their lives,” said Spriggs. “There’s something to be said for strength of continuity. They play together, they train together, they make each other better. Those still looking to play for a 16U team or a college showcase level team, we’ve got two of those next year.”
Spriggs added that tryouts are an opportunity for the Fillies to get a sense of who they’d like to see make the cut, but it can also be an eye-opening experience for some players and parents.
“Some girls just aren’t college-level players,” Spriggs said. “We provide plenty of resources to the players in our organization, but it still involves a lot of individual and family work, academics, good character. We just want the right fit. We want the ones who are aspiring to be college players. That’s pretty much the bottom line.”
Kingston players on the Fillies 18U team include catcher-outfielder Jessica Chilcott, catcher-utility player Alyssa Finno, pitcher-infielder Megan Peace, pitcher-outfielder Angela VanPelt, pitcher-utility player Shannon Bonewit, outfielder-second baseman Sydney Bonewit, and catcher-outfielder Alyssa Villielm.
Saugerties players on the Fillies 18U team are utility players Vanessa Brandt and Kailey Collins.
Kingston players on the Fillies 16U team include utility player Kailyn Lukaszewski, pitcher-first baseman Victoria DeMercurio, catcher-outfielder Grace Tremper, outfielder-second baseman Ryan Fitzgerald, and catcher-third baseman Monica Reyes.
The Fillies 14U and 16U teams are currently closing out their summer season at the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Nationals in Ocean City, Maryland. That tournament runs from July 17-22. The Fillies 18U team will compete in the USSSA 18U Open Nationals in Salisbury, Maryland from July 23-28.