The Virginia Legends 18U Gold team, led by head coach Barry Paul, has been recognized as one of the most elite teams in the country by virtue of receiving an invitation to this weekend's PGF National Championships in Huntington Beach, Calif. Pictured are, front row, from left: Madison King, Skylar Johnston, Savannah Warren, Autumn Vick, Gabbie Bennett, Elizabeth Andrews and Jaclyn Mounie; back row, from left: Kayla McNair, Madison Cabell, Alexis Holmstrom, Selena Thompson, Hannah Hautz, Quinlan Moore, Kayla Harris, Morgan Lowers and Maddy Morris.
The Virginia Legends 18U Gold team, led by head coach Barry Paul, has been recognized as one of the most elite teams in the country by virtue of receiving an invitation to this weekend's PGF National Championships in Huntington Beach, Calif. Pictured are, front row, from left: Madison King, Skylar Johnston, Savannah Warren, Autumn Vick, Gabbie Bennett, Elizabeth Andrews and Jaclyn Mounie; back row, from left: Kayla McNair, Madison Cabell, Alexis Holmstrom, Selena Thompson, Hannah Hautz, Quinlan Moore, Kayla Harris, Morgan Lowers and Maddy Morris.

California, here we come

Published 8:44pm Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Three Suffolk softball players will embark on a trip to California this weekend with their team, the Virginia Legends 18U Gold, to compete in the most prestigious national tournament there is at this age level.

“It’s the hardest tournament to qualify for,” Legends coach Wayne Vick said. “It’s the top premier teams in the country.”

While the Legends won a qualifier to go last year, their overall success this season resulted in an invitation to the Premier Girls Fastpitch 2013 National Championships in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Multiple age groups will face off, but the 18U Premier division that the Legends are a part of is the most elite in the United States.

Legends right fielder and recent King’s Fork High School graduate Autumn Vick was with the team when it went last year, but the feeling of going remains the same in 2013.

“It makes me feel like everything I worked toward is coming together, and we’re a very successful team, and I feel like we deserve it, for the most part,” she said. “It’s really exciting, to say the least.”

It will be the first taste of the big stage for Nansemond River High School teammates Morgan Lowers and Jaclyn Mounie.

“It’s honestly one of the best feelings that a ballplayer can feel, knowing that they’re put on such a (talented) team, and knowing that I have this great opportunity that I can go all the way to California to play is just absolutely amazing,” said Lowers, a rising junior.

Mounie, a rising sophomore, said, “It’s pretty amazing. It’s a really great opportunity for us and being in Suffolk, you wouldn’t expect us to be able to go all the way out there.”

The tournament field representing the best the country has to offer currently includes about 70 teams.

Coach Vick said that the tournament came about when the California softball teams that correctly thought they were the best in the nation wanted to invite teams from all over the United States to play in a tournament.

The Legends have qualified for three out of the four years that the event has existed.

“We have an aggressive style for skill development,” Vick said.

Lowers described the coaches, saying, “They’re always making you work harder to absolutely perfect what you’re doing, so that’s definitely helped us.”

Coach Vick said that the goal is to help build up the girls’ skills for college teams so that they “can walk into those programs and become impact players.”

“We kind of put our players in the fire, and they kind of learn by getting in it,” Coach Vick said. “They produce very well; we’ve had a very good year.”

He described the Legends as a young team, but extremely competitive, with great pitching. The combination helped them finish high in all their tournaments this year.

“Most of your large tournaments now are invitation only,” Coach Vick said. “We are one of the teams that gets invited on a regular basis.”

All of this helped the Legends earn the invitation to the PGF National Championships.

Autumn Vick admitted to nerves last year before the event “because I didn’t know what I was coming into.” This year, she said she knows from experience that her team can play with any team in the country.

Lowers and Mounie both played at the 14U level for different organizations last year and have made the leap to 18U.

In the face of such a monumental tournament, Lowers did not mince words.

“I am nervous,” she said. “I mean, who wouldn’t be nervous to play in front of like 3,000 college coaches, especially across the country?”

But she said that once she steps on the ball field, it melts away.

Mounie, likely describing most of the girls’ experience, said she has some nerves, “but it’s more excitement.”

The tourney begins on July 27 and runs through Aug. 3.

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