Jul 19, 2017 - By Scott Akanewich, Sports EditorRiverton's top diamond girls will compete at the Senior League Softball regional tournament in Big Sky Country.
Two years ago, a group of young women stepped onto the dusty surface at Honeycutt Softball Complex in Riverton, not necessarily with a dream, but with a desire.
The Riverton Little League Softball league is wrapping up its second season with a squad of senior all-stars journeying to the north for the biggest competition any of them have ever played in.
Beginning Friday, the softballers from Riverton take the field representing Wyoming at the West regional tournament in Missoula, Montana, part of a nine-team field, which will produce one club to travel July 31-Aug. 6 to the Senior League Softball World Series in Delaware.
Riverton opens Friday, with games against Arizona, Nevada and Oregon, followed by contests with Southern California, Hawaii and Northern California on Saturday. The team closes out pool play Sunday with games against the host team from Missoula, as well as Montana's state champion.
Last summer, a squad representing the Riverton majors league competed for Wyoming at the Little League Softball west regional in San Bernardino, California, which was the first time a team representing the Cowboy State had ever played in the event.
According to Riverton Little League Softball president Jakob Olheiser, this year's trip is the natural progression of a league which is still in its infancy.
"I think it's a great opportunity for these girls," said Olheiser. "They'll get the chance to experience the level of softball we want to have here someday."
In order to qualify for the tournament, a league had to offer at least 12 games during the regular season, with players needing to play in a minimum of 60 percent of the contests to be eligible to compete.
The rules make is easy to drown in a sea of preparatory paperwork, said Riverton manager Kim Shelley, who was an assistant coach on the trip to Southern California last summer.
"Every girl needs a birth certificate proving her age and also proof of where she lives," said Shelley. "Not to mention, food and lodging isn't provided like it was last year, so we have to arrange for that as well."
Shelley's daughter, Maya, is on the roster, having also made the trip to San Bernardino last season and has now moved up a notch on the softball scale to the senior ranks.
"It's been an interesting transition from majors to seniors," said Shelley. "The players certainly know most of the basics already at this level, so we can now work more on honing skills and practicing particular aspects of the game."
Resources for the league are limited, including field space, which can be a challenge.
"With only two fields, and sharing with the adult leagues, we end up having to play two doubleheaders a week," she said. "Our season's only six weeks."
All one needs to do is the math to realize there are only 12 regular-season games played, far fewer than teams from other areas, where resources are more abundant and the weather more agreeable early in the spring.
As a result, Riverton will play eight games in only three days, a much larger workload than the girls are accustomed to -- and that's only pool play, with as many as three more contests in the offing if they advance in the tournament. The team could play nearly as many in five days as it did all season.
However, Charlyn Garcia isn't worried, although the 16-year-old pitcher has even more wear and tear in store for her, namely her arm, as she'll be called upon to throw dozens and dozens of pitches in a short amount of time.
She embraces what lies ahead for her and her teammates upon their arrival in Missoula.
"We're going to have the ability to challenge ourselves against better players than we're used to facing," said Garcia. "We know we're going to have to prove ourselves."
For her personally, one of the biggest challenges will be to maintain her composure regardless of whatever situations unfold during the competition.
"It all begins and ends with the pitcher," said Garcia. "If the pitcher's attitude gets down, it affects everyone else."
Madi Johnson, 17, is a catcher and center fielder who has been playing softball for three years and also is a sprinter on the Riverton Wolverines track squad. She is anticipating the experience eagerly.
"It's pretty exciting growing together as a team," said Johnson. "We're looking forward to winning some games."
Johnson will be a senior at Riverton High School this fall, meaning this is her final summer on the field.
"It's my last year of playing softball," said Johnson. "So, I plan on making the most of it."
As for the overall goals for her club in general, Shelley remains optimistic.
"Our league was much better by the end of the season, so we're really hoping to go up there and be competitive," said Shelley. "If nothing else, we want to be excellent representatives of our community."
Concerning the long-term prognosis of the league and the progress which has been made in only two short years, Olheiser said he couldn't be happier.
"Our level of play now is three times higher than it was when we started two years ago," said Olheiser. "If we can get enough girls excited and wanting to play softball, I think we can be really competitive in a few more years."
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