When the final bell rang at Webster County High School on Tuesday, May 16, the entire student body burst out the front doors ready for a summer full of relaxation, spending time outside, and hanging out with friends.
But some of these students have decided to further their athletic abilities and spend their time off from their studies playing with various travel teams, whether it be on the softball diamond or the basketball court.
On the diamond, soon-to-be sophomore Hadlee Carter is spending her time with the Illinois Force, a travel team based out of Marion, Illinois, that plays at places as far away as Alabama, Colorado, and Georgia. The Lady Trojans’ leadoff batter (.277 batting average, seven RBI, and 21 runs scored) has really enjoyed her time with the Force so far.
“Tons of college coaches are at the tournaments and the girls on them are good so I really have to work hard,” said Carter.
“So far it’s been great. I’ve met new friends, made new memories, and grown as a player.”
Carter’s teammate on the softball diamond, junior Karlie Keeney, is also playing travel ball this summer, playing with two separate teams that are both of high caliber.
The primary team that Keeney plays with is Southern Force 16U, a team based out of Kentucky that is top notch and one of the best in the nation. In fact, the squad is invited to compete in the JO Cup (Junior Olympics)---an affair that is invitation only.
Keeney also plays with the Atlanta Vipers, a team from Georgia that is ranked in the Top 10 nationally and projected to win the PGF (Premier Girls Fastpitch) Nationals in California this year.
Keeney finished this past season with Webster County as one of the state leaders with a 1.43 ERA inside the circle and a batting average of .430 at the plate. She has been heavily scouted from various college coaches at levels as high as Division I and Division II for years with stats like these, and Keeney likes the additional exposure these tournament gives her, and how they continue to build up her profile.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to perform to the best of my ability and show what I can do for the many college coaches attending,” said Keeney.
However Keeney has also enjoyed and benefitted from the social aspect that these tournaments bring.
“(Travel ball) also allows you to make friendships that will last a lifetime. I met some of my closest friends through travel ball.”
Keeney is also a multi-sport talent that also plays basketball for Webster County, and Keeney’s teammates on the hardwood have also been bettering themselves this summer.
Senior Jessica Winders has been on the travel ball circuit for years, and she has reaped many benefits from the experience.
“The tournaments help me build experience and improve my skills by playing against many competitors that will likely go to a Division I college,” said Winders. “This team allows me to learn from a different type of coaching style, and take what I learn back home to Webster County to help contribute to my team.”
Winders was the Lady Trojans’ leading rebounder with 5.7 per game, as well as the 2nd-leading scorer with 11.0 points per outing.
Sophomores Alyssa Payne and Marissa Austin have also been gym rats this summer, playing for the Kentucky Heat and Tennessee Flight, respectively.
The Heat are a team based out of Hopkinsville, and Payne says that she has benefitted both on and off the court.
“You get more experience and get to play more competitive teams,” said Payne. “You also get to meet new people and make new friends.”
Payne was a key reserve at the point and shooting guard positions this past season, and the Lady Trojans will depend on her contributions next season as well, her responsibilities expanding with the loss of long-time starter Kaylee Duncan to graduation.
Meanwhile, the Flight hail from Lebanon, Tennessee, and Austin realizes that these tournaments are a good way to get more exposure and set a good future for herself.
“All the tournaments we’re in are exposure tournaments in which a lot of college coaches/scouts attend,” said Austin. “So by going to these tournaments I can get my name out there to schools.”
Austin started as a freshman for Webster County, where she averaged 7.7 points per game and hit the game-winning free throws in the region semifinals against Christian County.
The last Webster County athlete participating in summer travel ball is definitely no stranger to the travel ball and AAU Circuit: senior Chatman Ellis.
A two-year starter and last year’s leading scorer (13.8 points per game) for the Webster County Trojans basketball team, Ellis has played AAU for years. Expressing a desire to take his game to the next level on multiple occasions, Ellis and AAU fit like a hand and a glove.
“I like getting the exposure and better competition to make me a better athlete and player,” said Ellis. “There’s always scouts watching whether they came up to you individually or not.”
So while these student athletes will still enjoy the carefree leisures and pleasures that summer vacation entails, they will also be spending a good deal of their time bettering their game and, in the process, WCHS Athletics as a whole.
Reach Cameron Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org