The cream of Alaska's high school softball crop is looking for a challenge.
Eleven of Alaska's best players are heading to the Amateur Softball Association's Fast Pitch Girls B 18-Under Western Nationals in Salem, Ore., where they will compete under the name 907 Elite Softball from July 30 to Aug. 4.
Alaskan softball teams have found success Outside in recent years, most notably winning a world championship for 12-14-year-olds last summer in the Little League Junior Softball World Series. East High's Morgan Hill and Taria Page were on that team, as was West's Lauren Syrup. All three will play for 907 Elite.
While all the girls on last summer's world championship team were from Anchorage, 907 Elite will include girls from Juneau and Fairbanks.
"The fact that we're drawing from Juneau, Fairbanks and Anchorage really makes it a true statewide team," said team manager Rod Hill, also head softball coach at West High.
The eight other players on 907 Elite are: Sydney Smith (East), Gabby Meyerson (East), Kacey Duffield (Lathrop), Payge Scanlon-Boswood (Lathrop), Randi Held (Juneau), Kayla Balovich (Juneau), Pauline Tufi (West) and Devonne Troutman (West).
The four schools represented were the last four standing in last spring's state high school softball championships, won by East.
Players are responsible for providing their own plane tickets and the team is raising funds through car washes and solicitation of local sponsors to cover the cost of room, board, cars and uniforms. The total cost for the trip is about $12,000, Hill said, which buys a chance to play in a minimum of four games.
A pool of 30 teams from the western half of the United States are expected to compete, with each team allowed to bring up to 18 players. Teams will play two games for seeding purposes before moving on to a double-elimination bracket.
The tournament reserves a slot for Alaska each year, but Alaska rarely sends a team, Hill said. Teams from Ketchikan and Juneau have participated in the past, but didn't fare well, he said. The 907 Elite talent level should match up competitively with the other teams, but Outside teams have the benefit of more practice time.
"Our kids our playing 40 games a year and some of those teams out there are playing 150," Hill said. "Game-tough is what you need. You gotta go with some real cowboys to make something good happen."
Tufi, who will play on full scholarship with Louisiana Tech next season, is the only player on 907 Elite that has graduated high school. She provides power pitching and hitting to a team Hill said has five quality pitchers and seven hitters with home-run power.
"We've got some really good players up here," Hill said. "They're just really spread out. I thought, 'What if we put them together and see if we can compete?' "
Hill came up with the idea for 907 Elite a few weeks ago and recruited Lathrop coach Bill Duffield and West assistant coach Sean Syrup to help out. He also invited Paul Schoenborn, coach of the two-time defending state champion East team, but Schoenborn declined for scheduling reasons.
Hill wants to make the trip to Western Nationals an annual outing and said the endeavor will become easier in the future, with time to plan and raise funds year-round. It's something the softball community is excited about backing, Hill said.
"I know people care about how Alaska stacks up with the rest of the world," he said.
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS