Girls softball players ages 12 to 18 from around the state and college coaches at every level descended on the fields at the Loretta French Sports Complex in Chugiak this week for the 2022 Great Alaska Showcase.
The showcase, which combines coaching, training and recruiting, included over 160 kids from communities all over the state, such as Ketchikan, Juneau, Anchorage, Delta Junction and Fairbanks. The players received hands-on instruction from 24 coaches hailing from 22 colleges.
“To see kids coming in from all over around the state and from programs small and big, to get this type of instruction and to be recruited, really warms the heart,” Arctic Heat Fastpitch Softball Vice President Dan Traxinger said. “This is kind of a crowning achievement. We’re really proud of what we’re doing here.”
This marked the third year of the event that provides youth softball players, coaches and even aspiring umpires the opportunity to gain exposure to one-on-one tutelage that they otherwise wouldn’t have in the Last Frontier.
“There’s nowhere else in the nation where you’re going to have 24 college coaches from around the nation recruiting our Alaska kids,” Traxinger said. “This is probably the biggest recruiting event for youth softball in the state.”
The programs represented include those from the junior college and NAIA level all the way up to Division I, including the 2022 NCAA Women’s College World Series champion Oklahoma Sooners.
“The very first year, I think we had 60 (kids), so we’ve more than doubled,” said Alyson Carter of Triple Crown Fastpitch, who directed and helped organize the event. “It’s fantastic because they want to learn, and the coaches want to learn too.”
The three-day event featured skills camps, scrimmage games and recruiting opportunities for the players, umpire training and a coaching clinic where Alaska youth coaches received pointers and feedback from their peers at the collegiate level.
“For the younger players, getting over the nerves of being on the field with college coaches or having college coaches watch them is huge,” Carter said. “Getting a chance to build a relationship with a coach that’s been here for a few years is huge for the older kids.”
High school upperclassmen are able to see coaches from different levels, learn from them and potentially commit to one of their schools, Carter said.
The event was hosted by Anchorage-based Arctic Heat Fastpitch Softball, Triple Crown Fastpitch ran the showcase and USA Softball provided umpires. Triple Crown, based in Colorado, has developed into a comprehensive softball organization with ties to camps, showcases and other programs nationally.
Carter said that a lot of the coaches that come to the showcase look at it as a chance to diversify their pool of recruits since Alaska is not on the recruiting trail for most of their programs.
“I do a lot of recruiting through Triple Crown events, and they reached out and said that they were doing an event here in Alaska and wanted to see if I’d be able to assist,” Monica Harrison said.
Harrison is the head softball coach at Carnegie Mellon University, which is an NCAA DIII school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She said coming to events such as the showcase aligns with her personal philosophy as a coach and of the program she runs.
“To use the platform of softball to be able to expand access and opportunities to young women to such an amazing sport to get them enrolled into colleges,” Harrison said.
Many of the coaches are in Alaska for the second or third year in a row and look forward to making it a regular occurrence.
“Last year was my first year and I don’t think they can ever get me to stop coming,” Harrison said.
Some of the coaches don’t currently have any Alaskan players on their rosters but are hoping to rectify that in the coming years after establishing connections and building rapport through events like the showcase.
Mackenzie Pahang is a 17-year-old incoming senior at Ketchikan High and has been a member of the Arctic Heat since early June. She has been capitalizing on the exposure that events like the Great Alaska Showcase offers.
“Ketchikan is a small island in Southeast Alaska, so there’s not a lot of coaches coming up there,” Pahang said. “Not a lot of people know about Ketchikan, so coming up here with all these coaches being here is a great opportunity for me to get seen.”
Harrison said in both life and sports, it’s paramount to build relationships and learn lessons that transcend athletics.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about building relationships and helping young women build confidence,” she said. “We teach life through the game of softball. The more we can be around them and help them understand who they are and find their voice through the game of softball, the more they’re going to be empowered to go be the next generation of change agents in the world.”