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FGCL Grants College Players Summer Opportunity To Compete

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(Photos by Billy D Photography)

After a successful inaugural season in 2020, the Florida Gulf Coast League is back in action with three new teams this summer. As the game of softball continues to grow, so too do the opportunities available for its players outside of the college season.

For decades, summer leagues provided baseball players from around the country a way to compete, train and develop their skills during the offseason months.

Recognizing the need, the FGCL decided to offer softball’s first collegiate summer league after having a successful inaugural baseball season the year prior. Initially consisting of 12 teams, only seven teams were allowed to take the field due to last summer's pandemic concerns.

After five weeks of stiff competition, the Myakka City River Mocs won the inaugural FGCL championship in front of over 3,000 fans viewing through the live stream broadcast.

One year later, the FGCL has expanded and welcomed the Siesta Key Phinz, the Sarasota Circus and the South Bradenton Skeeters to join the original seven teams for the 2021 summer season.

Aaron Vail, an assistant coach at Furman, is coaching the Phinz in their inaugural season. After seeing his players Riley Ludlam and Claire Ginder successfully compete in the FGCL after last year’s college softball season was canceled, Vail said his decision to coach was a “no-brainer” following the league’s expansion.

“I think the expansion was huge,” Vail said. “That growth is huge in just continuing to just be more visible and give the girls an opportunity to see outside of playing college ball. The FGCL also lets them know that even if they can’t make it to the USSSA Pride or they can’t make it to AU (Athletes Unlimited), they still have the opportunity to play additional games in their career because the career window for these women is just so short.”

The expansion also allows new rosters to be filled with high-caliber talent from all divisions and conferences.

For the 2021 season, the Siesta Key Phinz welcomed Clemson’s Abi Stuart, Georgia Tech’s Blake Neleman and Ferris State’s Kaitlyn Orme. The South Bradenton Skeeters will be led by Penn State’s Melina Livingston, Florida State’s Autumn Belviy and George Mason’s Marlaina Bozek. Lastly, the Sarasota Circus will compete with Georgia’s Ellie Armistead, Florida State’s Kaia LoPreste and Washington’s Stormy Kotzelnick.

Carsyn Gordon, a Puerto Rico national team member and 2018 WCWS national champion with Florida State, is the head coach for the Circus in their inaugural season. Having served as an FGCL assistant coach last year with the Manatee Squeeze, Gordon is now ready for her new role with the league.

“I want every player to walk away with a newfound love for softball,” said Gordon. “Yeah, we want to win and definitely want to win the championship, but at the end of the day, we’re just playing to have fun. I want them to go into their schools this fall with a breath of fresh air and know that softball doesn’t always have to be so stressful.”

The FGCL grew from having 75 players in its first year to now welcoming 140 players to Florida, giving more athletes the opportunity to compete, train and develop their skills this summer.

“There’s a ton of talent from all over the country and I’m excited to have the opportunity to coach,” said Vail. “I just want these girls to continue to grow and be better athletes than when they got here, and that’s simply the goal. So, if that means we win every game or if we are not as successful as we want to be, it’s still going to be, as a team and as an experience, a successful summer.”

After a record-setting Women’s College World Series with viewership numbers through the roof, softball has now emerged as the NCAA’s fastest-growing sport. With the addition of summer leagues, new recognition and opportunities are starting to emerge for the sport and its athletes.

“I definitely think that softball is going to take a turn for the better,” Gordon said. “Just looking at the numbers from the last few World Series, (they) have been crazy, and now that we have more summer leagues and other leagues coming about, I think it is going to really catapult the sport.”

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