Fort Campbell, KY – The team has come back for a new season after sitting 2020 out because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. The coaching staff is confident the combination of talent they’ve seen in this round of tryouts so far is exactly what they need to bring home the gold.
Fort Campbell also has been given the honor of hosting the Armed Forces Women’s Softball Championship. It is a first, said Lt. Col. Angela Diebal-Lee, the team’s physical trainer and director of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital (BACH).
“It’s never been at Fort Campbell, it’s always been at Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania,” Diebal-Lee said.
“And then they had to change out staff and different things and Fort Campbell volunteered to host the training camp as well as the Armed Forces Championship,” stated Diebal-Lee.
Aggressive at the plate
Every player brings with her a unique set of skills and experience, with some having played college ball while others spent years on traveling teams in various leagues. Although their athletic experience and skills span the spectrum between division and summer play, the head and assistant coaches as well as the physical trainer all agreed this group has one outstanding strength – this is by far the strongest group of hitters they’ve ever seen.
Captain Alexandrea Rashenskas, 759th Military Police Battalion, Fort Carson, Colorado, played middle infield in college at West Point and said she is amazed by the talent on the field, especially from the plate.
“I’m really impressed with the way that the girls hit, there are girls coming up to the plate that are just crushing the ball,” Rashenska said.
“Day one is always rough, and in the years I’ve been in the program this is probably the best show out between hitting collectively as a group, which has been a breath of fresh air,” Cubert said.
Sergeant First Class Veronica Bangi, 531st Hospital Center, Fort Campbell, is in her fifth season with the All-Army softball team.
The combination of phenomenal performance at the plate and the technical skill among the newcomers and veteran players will make it very hard to narrow this group down to 15 players, Bangi said.
“I’m pretty excited because the girls who came out this year are pretty good,” she said. “Usually you can tell with every try-out the onesies and twosies, but it’s really difficult with this set of girls.”
Cubert said the key is in the recruiting and research, which from what she could tell have paid off.
“We did a real good job making this a difficult decision and that’s a good problem to have,” she said.
The skill at bat isn’t just about getting on base or pushing the ball over the fence, not in slow pitch, which is something Rashenskas has had to adjust to as a player coming from fast pitch. She noted this has been particularly challenging for her because at West Point she was a slap hitter, which is a skill that she no longer uses at this level.
Instead, she has had to learn about situational hitting and putting the ball where she wants it rather than leaving it up to chance. Having to stand in the batter’s box and swing was a big change for her.
“That was another huge adjustment for me,” she said. “I’m always out front when I swing with slow pitch, so you really do have a lot more time to sit back and you have to be really disciplined with your pitch selection because in slow pitch you really do have to place the ball in certain spots. You can’t just sit back and swing for the fences.”
Watching other players artfully place the ball on the field has been one of the most impressive aspects of tryouts, Rashenskas said.
Bangi said the transition from slow to fast pitch is difficult and this level of play requires a higher degree of discipline at bat.
“So, in regular leagues you just go out there and hit it because the pitcher may not always throw strikes, so you’re just hitting it wherever,” she said. “But at this level we are placing it, you’re putting it somewhere very specific, so those are the things we need to focus on, situational type hitting and situational type plays.”
Eyes on the prize
Head coach Sgt. 1st Class Nichole Higgins said the competition this year will be fierce but this team is more than ready to put pressure on the other armed services. Although she doesn’t think the raw talent of the All-Army team alone guarantees a win, the girls also will have to give it everything they’ve got if they want to take the gold home to the Army.
“Air Force always brings strong ball players and I’ve played with many of them before,” Higgins said. “I’ve coached many of them before, I know their teams and I respect each and every one of them, especially on the field, so I don’t take any of them lightly.”
Diebal-Lee said this year the All-Army team is out for blood.
“The Air Force I believe has won the gold medal the last three or four years in a row, and nobody’s touched them, so the Army’s out for vengeance,” she said. “The Navy usually brings a strong team and the Air Force brings a strong team, so it’s a matter of us putting our foot on their throats right off the bat and then not letting off their trachea.”
Cubert said some of the players are hungry for a win because the 2019 championship came down to a single run, so now in 2021 the All-Army team has the Air Force in their sights.
“Everyone knows that we’re chasing gold, we’ve got a couple vets from 2019 who lost to the Air Force by one point, and we’re feeding off of that,” she said “Air Force is definitely the No. 1 25-meter target if you will, and then we’ve got Navy on the heels but we’re just going to play everybody equally and play Army ball.”
More than anything the coaching staff wants to avoid the attitude of complacency.
The coaching staff will make the toughest decision it has to make on Aug. 2 when they finalize the roster for the championship. The tournament takes place August 9th-14th at the South Sports Complex, 5514 Air Assault Street, and the All-Army softball team and coaching staff hope Soldiers and Families will show up to cheer for the black and gold.