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Valencia Cup Offers Unique Opportunity For Softball Players

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(Photo by Jade Hewitt)

Morgan Howe faced a difficult decision.

Howe received a phone call from Jessie Warren—a USSSA Pride infielder—about an opportunity to play in Spain with the Florida Gulf Coast League on Team Florida for the Valencia Cup this May.

Howe, an Athletes Unlimited standout and former Arizona State outfielder, was definitely interested.

When Warren mentioned that the dates were set for May 8 through May 15, though, Howe, as a graduate assistant for the University of Florida softball program, knew that would cause a conflict with the SEC Tournament also scheduled for that time.

After a talk with Florida coach Tim Walton, though, Howe unfortunately faced an ultimatum. Howe ultimately decided to take the opportunity in Spain, which meant she couldn’t be a graduate assistant for the Gators anymore.

“I don’t like to quit on people or not follow through with my commitments, but at the same time, I know for myself that I want to play as long as I can and play as much as I can as long as I have it (in my life),” Howe said. “It came down to the opportunity. I don’t get asked to play in Spain very often."

Warren quickly formed a bond with Howe, who she met while playing with Athletes Unlimited last year.

“We were looking for some outfielders, and her performance at Athletes Unlimited no doubt was exceptional,” Warren said. “I knew she would be a great candidate and person to bring and play alongside, so I mentioned her to (FGCL Softball executive director) Ryan Moore.”

Howe and Warren will represent Team Florida alongside Morgan Klaevemann (FSU), Aleshia Ocasio (UF), A.J. Andrews (LSU), Aubrey Leach (TENN), Carsyn Gordon (FSU), Ellie Cooper (FSU), Jessica Burroughs (FSU), Shelby Pendley (OU), Lilli Piper (OHST), Gina Snyder (ARIZ), Jordan Roberts (UF), Meghan King (FSU) and Mandie Perez (ARIZ) as the team that will play against Team Mexico, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Spain, as well as host a youth clinic in Barcelona.

Warren started a GoFundMe page to help cover flight costs, as the Spanish government has only agreed to cover the fees once Team Florida arrives in Spain.

“Unfortunately, it hasn’t really gotten much attention, but hopefully this month we'll get some donations to help out,” Warren said.

This opportunity to play in Spain came unexpectedly for FGCL Softball executive director Ryan Moore, as well.

With this an Olympic year, FGCL Softball was contacted by various national teams that are headed to Tokyo to play at the Olympic Games. When Moore was in the scheduling process, Team Mexico asked whether FGCL Softball could field a professional team for the Valencia Cup since the U.S. National Team, Team Canada and USSSA Pride decided against the travel due to COVID restrictions.

“We figured, what an opportunity for the Florida Gulf Coast League to spread its wings,” Moore said.

With that, Moore had to fill the roster for the Valencia Cup, which he did with some help from the USSSA Pride and various resources within Athletes Unlimited.

“USSSA folks were gracious enough and said, ‘Absolutely. Go represent the game of softball,’” Moore said. “… Then, through Athletes Unlimited resources, they basically put me in touch with anybody that might be interested to play.”

An opportunity to play in Spain isn’t normal for most players, including Howe, who has never been overseas.

Howe mentioned that she did play in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico when she was a sophomore at Fresno State and briefly trained with Team Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but that doesn’t compare to an approximately 14-hour flight to Spain.

“It will be different,” Howe said. “I have sat in the car for a really long time, but I had the freedom to go outside and move around whenever I wanted to and I won’t have that in the airplane. I am going to have to watch a lot of movies and potentially read a lot of books.”

Despite the opportunity to play against the Netherlands, Spain, Mexico and Czech Republic, Howe said that she is probably more excited about the chance to host a youth clinic in Barcelona.

“Just to do that and communicate with these kids through a sport, I think it just tugs on the heartstrings a little bit,” Howe said. “… I want to grow this game and that is my mission. I love playing the game, and I only hope that kids coming up through it can learn to love softball the way that I do. I just want to give back and make this sport available in this setting professionally for these kids.

“Playing in Spain is already an opportunity of a lifetime, but to also be able to work with kids and grow softball somewhere else where the sport isn’t as popular, how can I say no?”

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