Hitting it Home
In years past, more than 300 teams and more than 4,000 girls typically attended the three-weel long Triple Crown Girls Fastpitch Softball World Series and not one girl was from Summit County.
Something about those odds just didn’t seem right to Scott Chester. And so, following the classic Field of Dreams wisdom that "if you build it, they will come," the Park City High School girls’ head softball coach set forth three years ago to build a Summit County high school club team.
In a town that hosts a tournament the size and caliber of the Triple Crown World Series, Chester figured that there was some hidden desire and softball talent to be found. The first step was becoming the Park City High School head softball coach and helping to rebuild its struggling program. From there he wanted to give his team the chance to play in the summer to become a better program. Then, after playing some non-region games against North and South Summit high schools, he learned of the softball talent on the east side of the county and his plan began to come together. Letters were sent to the respective coaches and top girls from each team began to step forward to join Chester in his quest.
Finally, last year, the Summit County Silver Strikers were born. They will play in their inaugural Triple Crown tourney this week.
It wasn’t all roses and ribbons from the outset, though. Chester was dealing with three different groups from three distinctly different towns and some lifelong rivalries. The first day, girls from bitter high school rivals North and South Summit separated themselves on opposite sides of the field. One girl from Coalville mentioned how tired she was after getting up at 6 a.m. to feed her pigs and the Park City girls looked at her, startled, and said "You did what?!"
But the differences soon faded into the background. Now, Chester is no longer surprised when a horse trots down the street during a practice in Oakley. North Summit soon-to-be senior Brittney Stokes has grown used to the "pig farmer" jokes and Chester even spent his July Fourth holiday watching Silver Striker team member McKenzie Woolstenhulme compete in barrel racing in the Oakley Rodeo.
"I didn’t even think about that at the beginning, but then you realize that you’re exposing them to a different community," Chester said.
The girls say that it is a common love of the game that has brought them together.
"We’re kind of a big softball family," said third baseman Rachel Rehfield, who will be a junior at North Summit this fall.
Stokes said that during the prep season her team definitely sees South Summit as the enemy. But now that they are all playing together she admits that she admires their talent and is happy to be able to have all of that skill on one team. She singled out South Summit’s Ashley Clegg as one of those players.
"She’s fun and she’s good and she’s someone who’s intimidating to go up against," Stokes said. "We wanted to play with her."
Rehfield feels the same way.
"It was kind of weird at first," she said. "You have enemies and we were like, ‘She’s gonna play with us?’ Then we got to know them. They are just people."
Stokes said that you get used to playing with the friends you grew up with, but she has really enjoyed finally playing with some of the other top girls in the county like Haulsey Larson of South Summit, and Aundrea Hargroder and Scott’s daughter, Kalee, both of Park City.
"We’re like a huge family and Scott’s like our dad," Rehfield said.
Rehfield’s real dad, Rich, is also a part of the team, helping Chester as an assistant coach alongside Park City High assistant softball coach Jessica Wall.
The girls have been working with Chester all year long honing various parts of their game and since the start of summer have been practicing together three times a week all over the county.
While the girls are still loyal to their high school teams, they are excited about finally having a club team in the area. For many of the girls, driving to Salt Lake multiple times per week to play in a summer league was out the question. Now that the Silver Strikers are in town, they finally have an option and hope it’s an institution that’s here to stay.
"What I wanted to start was something so that high school-level girls know that there is more than just playing for their school," Chester said. "I hope next year I have 30 girls to choose from. The word of mouth will spread."
The club team bridges the gap between the recreational leagues within the county for grade schoolers and the high school team. Chester has already begun to organize a 14-and-under team that will give these younger girls a chance to develop their competitive skills and prepare them for the rigors of fast-pitch high school ball.
"This is for girls that want to turn it up," Chester said.
The girls say they already have had other high school teammates say they want to play on the Silver Strikers next year. They also hope that young girls in the local recreation programs will aspire to follow in their footsteps one day.
Rehfield and Stokes said they both spent many a summer watching the Triple Crown games, wishing that they could be a part, but never knowing how or where to get started.
"It’s something we didn’t think we could do, never realizing the potential we had," Rehfield said.
Now the Silver Strikers are learning to play as a unit and preparing for what Chester predicts will be one of the toughest tests of their careers this week. Many of the teams that play in the Triple Crown boast college-bound girls and girls that have played together their entire lives.
Chester said that it’s been a bit of struggle getting some of the girls to commit to every practice and game, but he hopes that next summer most of them will commit to the team whole-heartedly.
"They are pulled in many directions by high school coaches," Chester said. "Summer is softball season. This is the only time of the year we can play. Almost every kid plays another sport. This is a small town; we’ve gotta share our athletes."
Being the only team in town will help the Silver Strikers in the Triple Crown series. While many of the Triple Crown teams from Southern California, Denver and Salt Lake compete with dozens of other teams for the top talent, Chester has his own Dream Team of sorts. With the best players from three high schools, he has three starting pitchers, a handful of top-notch catchers and a whole field full of talent.
Of course, this meant that some of the girls have had to move out of their natural positions, but Chester only sees that as a positive.
"If you think you’re gonna play beyond high school, this is a great chance to learn another position," Chester said.
For Rehfield, the whole situation is a great opportunity. She is a one-sport athlete and Chester said she has the chops to one day make a college roster. With the addition of a club team, Rehfield can now focus on playing year-round.
"It’s so cool to see the girls seeing what softball could really be about," Chester said.
Rehfield and Stokes agree that Chester is an incredible coach. Since the season began, they said they have learned a lot from him and appreciate his dedication to the game.
"He’s one of those guys that day or night you could call and say you wanna go hit," Rehfield said. "He’s great. He makes you want to work harder for him."
Chester and he said that he loves the girls’ passion and determination to win.
"I was looking to build a program that put a statement out that there is talent here," Chester said. "These girls set the tone early they can flat out play."
The merging of the three teams has also allowed the girls to learn a lot from each other.
"We see how different teams play it makes us better," Rehfield said.
Rehfield also thinks that a club team will make each girl’s respective high school team that much better next spring.
"Every high school has a goal to take state," she said.
The girls are leaving their stamp on the Triple Crown tournament in other ways. They have helped to run each of the skills contests these past two weeks and worked intermittently in the concessions stand. In exchange, Triple Crown agreed to waive their entry fees. The move not only helped the Silver Strikers save money, but allowed the hometown team to get plenty of exposure throughout the tournament.
However, exposure is one thing the girls definitely don’t need to seek out. They reached near celebrity status last week, making the rounds between different media outlets. They also think it would great if they are chosen to the lead the parade during the opening ceremony next Monday. Chester said that he is hoping that not only has he built bridges among the county’s athletes but that the team will also help build a bridge between Summit County and the Triple Crown tournament.
"I think the community will really support what these kids are doing," Chester said. "I don’t think people understand the level of talent that is in town this month. There are teams coming next week that could beat junior colleges."
But, with the attention comes pressure. Chester and the girls said that the spotlight will be a bit heavy on them this week, but they feel they are up to the challenge of playing against high-level teams.
"I think we have a good chance," Stokes said. "I think we’ll surprise people. I don’t know if we’ll win, but we’ll put up a dang good fight."
Even if they don’t win, a Summit County team is finally in the tournament and for the Silver Strikers that was biggest win of all.
"That’s more than half of the battle," Rehfield said. "That’s 99 percent of it all."
The girls will play in the Firecracker Tournament this weekend and then begin Triple Crown competition on Tuesday. The Silver Strikers are hoping to have as much Summit County support as possible at all of their games. For a complete schedule for the week, visit http://www.eteamz.com/silverstrikers.
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