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Eastern migration continues for local players

03/12/2012, 10:58pm PDT
By P.K. Daniel

It’s not unusual to see Southern California players filling roster spots on college softball teams back East, but the numbers appear to be growing.

San Marcos junior Christina Clermont, who will attend Syracuse, is on the Players to Watch list for this year’s high school softball season.

It’s not unusual to see Southern California players filling roster spots on college softball teams back East, but the numbers appear to be growing.

More than half the softball players — 25 of 42 — on U-T San Diego’s Next Level list of scholarship athletes have chosen to play for colleges east of the Rockies. Opportunity appears to be the reason.

Of the colleges that offer softball, more than 80 percent are located east of Colorado, and those programs covet players from Southern California.

“Part of it is because we’re able to play all year long,” said Carlsbad senior Tori Nirschl, who’s headed to Pittsburgh. “We’re more used to the high level of competition.”

Local players also head east because competition for spots on West Coast teams can be fierce.

“West Coast players often have to go east just to find a team,” said Cathi Aradi of College Softball Connection, a recruiting information service. “For the average player, making a team like Arizona’s can be pretty tough.”

The Pac-12 is generally considered the best softball conference. Of the past 10 Women’s College World Series, nine have been won by Pac-12 teams, three by UCLA.

It’s no different this season. Cal, which holds the top spot in the

ESPN.com/USA Softball rankings, is joined by Pac-12 rivals Washington, Arizona State and Stanford in the Top 10. There are seven Pac-12 teams in the Top 20.

The conference attracts the top-tier athletes — the top 1 percent — leaving few spots for the rest.

“You’re competing against kids from all over the country to stay where you are to go to college,” Nirschl said. “In that regard, there are more schools to pick from back East.”

Most programs east of the Rockies may not match the prowess of the Pac-12, but they provide a perfect landing for players like Nirschl, who has enjoyed a stellar high school career. Last year, she hit 12 home runs, tying her for fourth-highest total ever in the San Diego Section and helping Carlsbad set a section record with 41 homers.

A good high school résumé can add to a player’s profile, but like nearly all top-level players, Nirschl was recruited from her travel team, the San Diego Legacy.

“I don’t know of any kid who is recruited to play college softball off their high school team, unlike other sports,” said Torrey Pines coach Jon Moore, who in 16 years has produced many scholarship athletes but just two Pac-12 players.

Recruiters are rarely seen at prep games because the high school and college softball seasons run at the same time.

Of the nine travel team players on Torrey Pines this season, three are headed east to play college softball.

Lauren Filicia, a four-year varsity player, will be joining her sister, Kristin, a sophomore at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Both were recruited off their travel team, the Power Surge. Falcons and Power Surge pitcher Lauren Hynes is headed to Boston U. Fellow pitcher and teammate Rachel Nasland, a junior, has committed to Notre Dame.

Also attending Fairfield is Poway alum Rebecca Trott.

“Half of our team is from the West Coast,” Trott said. “In California, there is a lot of competition, so it’s really hard to get a scholarship. You have to be a higher caliber player.”

The pitcher credits her Legacy experience and her coach, Ken Weimer, who encourages his players to pursue East Coast opportunities, with helping her land a scholarship.

“The whole thing was Legacy and Ken,” Trott said.

Scripps Ranch senior Taylor Curran, the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year her freshman and sophomore years, is headed to Delaware.

“I just fell in love with the campus and the coaches,” she said of her decision to play on the East Coast.

Taylor, also a member of the Legacy, cited a bias for West Coast athletes.

“All the East Coast coaches find the West Coast players have more experience playing better competition,” she said.

Dominque Madruga, a Cathedral Catholic alum, is playing second base for North Carolina-Greensboro.

“There are so many more schools on the East Coast and more opportunities for someone who wants to play Division I softball,” she said.

College softball programs don’t have huge recruiting budgets, but neither are they necessary to become aware of players. Recruiters rely on large offseason travel ball tournaments, like Escondido’s America’s Finest City Showcase, that attract hundreds of college coaches nationwide.

One-stop shopping is more efficient for evaluating players than high school softball games, which have become almost irrelevant for college recruiters.

“It’s really good for college coaches,” Moore said, “because they go to a destination, like San Diego, for the weekend and watch 40 travel teams playing on six or seven fields all day long.”

Cougar Classic

In Monday’s Gold Division final, Torrey Pines defeated Bonita Vista 2-1. San Marcos defeated Santana 4-3 in eight innings for the Silver title. Rancho Bernardo (Bronze) and Mira Mesa (Copper) also clinched titles.

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