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Softball tapping into Texas and Oklahoma talent hotbed

Softball tapping into Texas and Oklahoma talent hotbed

North Texas freshman utility player Harley Parella (3) hits a ground ball into the dirt against Nicholls State during the Mean Green Spring Fling Tournament Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

Softball tapping into Texas and Oklahoma talent hotbed
April 07
02:28 2016

Clay Massey | Staff Writer

@Clay_FC

Taking batting practice from the lobbed pitches by assistant head coach Natalie Kozlowski, Choctaw, Oklahoma native Bryana Wade drives a ball to deep center field.

As her teammates cheer, the ball sails over the outfield wall with ease. On the very next pitch, the senior catcher steps back in the box, hits the rewind button and does the exact same thing.

Wade is one of just four Oklahoma players on the Mean Green softball team, the rest of the roster being from Texas.

“I think a lot of people overlook Oklahoma,” Wade said. “People overlook the smaller, unknown areas like North Texas and Oklahoma. We played travel ball in Texas more than anything. There’s better competition in Texas.”

While California is considered the true hotbed of softball talent, Texas is slowly becoming one of the top states  producing top-tier softball talent. Texas A&M University and Baylor University, both ranked in the nation’s Top 25, feature a very Texas-centric rosters.

While Baylor has some California players sprinkled in, A&M only features one non-Texan.

“There’s a hotbed in this area, especially D-FW” Kozlowski said. “With so many people and great teams locally, we don’t have to go outside our area to recruit.”

Most of the roster is from smaller towns in Texas but still played competitive travel ball. Head coach Tracey Kee and company do almost all of their recruiting from the travel ball the girls play in high school.

While the team stays local with recruiting, the coaching staff tries to find the girls with talent who are not being recruited by power conferences, according to Kozlowski.

“We go after the kids that are a little bit under the radar – kind of the diamond in the rough,” Kozlowski said. “We want that kid with a lot of upside.”

Junior right-handed pitcher Stacey Underwood is the perfect example of what the Mean Green was looking for. Underwood hails from Hico, a small town in north-central Texas, where the high school played softball at the 2-A level.

7_SoftballGraphic (1)

Erica Wieting | Staff

Underwood was one of the only players on her team to play competitive travel ball. While she was not directly recruited to Denton, she was spotted as an aforementioned “diamond in the rough” at a small community college near her hometown.

“[High school softball] was more of like a practice to me,” Underwood said. “But then when I would go to my club team, I think this is where I’m going to get recruited from. No one was going to come watch me in Hico.”

Both Kee and Kozlowski coached at Eastern Carolina University before they move to Denton. The staff never focused on recruiting local Carolina girls when at ECU, instead turning their attention to landing top talents from California and Hawaii.

The move to Denton opened up a new world of possibilities. Being located right near the heart of the talent bed in D-FW, the two changed their mindsets to a more homegrown approach.

“Here it’s just great,” Kozlowski said. “There’s so much talent literally in our backyard.”

Texas stands out on its own because of the travel softball that is played when the recruits are in high school. The teams are scattered throughout the state and have coaches that are willing to do the most to prepare players to play at a Division I level.

Every North Texas player was involved in some type of travel ball in high school, and some of them even played on the same travel teams before moving to Denton.

“These travel teams compete on a national level,” Kozlowski said. “There’s a lot of people to choose from, and the coaches from these teams are doing a really good job.”

Wade has first-hand experience on how good Texas travel teams can be, but she was on the other side of the coin.

Wade and her travel team from Oklahoma regularly competed against Texas teams, trying to catch the eyes of coaches and compete against better teams. She said she knows what made some Texas teams so good.

“There’s a lot of power in Texas,” Wade said. “That was my biggest takeaway from Texas. There’s power in Oklahoma, but it’s nothing like Texas.”

If the trend continues, North Texas will be recruiting out of its backyard for a long time, which could mean good news for the Mean Green.

“People come to Texas because softball is competitive,” Underwood said. “Softball in Oklahoma is extremely competitive. As a whole, I would say Texas and Oklahoma are one of the stronger areas to recruit from.”

Featured Image: Freshman utility player Harley Parella (3) hits a ground ball into the dirt against Nicholls State during the Mean Green Spring Fling Tournament. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

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