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Skyliners set to travel to Nebraska

Travelling far and wide for serious softball is nothing new to the Virginia Skyliners. This coming week will be a new experience all together, in more ways than one, for the 16-and-under Skyliners.

The Skyliners, a travel softball organization drawing players from Suffolk, Franklin and Southampton, are flying out of Norfolk Sunday morning headed for the Cat Osterman Experience and the Hall of Fame Fields in Bellevue, Neb.

The Skyliners will be one of 34 teams from the U.S. and Canada playing in an invitational tournament at the brand-new softball complex started by U.S. Olympic pitcher Cat Osterman.

It’ll be the second tournament hosted by the complex.

“It’s the longest trip we’ve experienced,” said coach Mike Matthews. Matthews and Wade Daughtry are co-head coaches of the Skyliners.

Playing nothing but good opponents is what travel softball is all about. While this tournament is a bit of an unknown, with teams coming from all over the nation, including the softball-rich west, southwest and midwest, Matthews expects it to be a big challenge.

“We’re hoping so. We’ve never shied away from tough competition because we know it’ll help us in the long run,” Matthews said.

Play starts on Tuesday with the Skyliners facing eight games from Tuesday through Friday. There won’t be a lot of time spent away from softball, but any free time will be filled by everything at the Experience, a place that seems to be a mix of Cooperstown, Field of Dreams and an amusement park.The complex is home to the U.S. Girls Softball Hall of Fame, a hall of fame that also sports individual and team playing challenges such as home run derbies.

An outdoor movie theater, a pro shop, an arcade and water slides are part of the park.

The amenities are part of the actual fields and games as well. The park includes everything a player could imagine from a competitive standpoint, and maybe even a step or so beyond with, for example, “mist cooled dugouts.”

All 34 teams in the tournament will be housed on site for the week in “team clubhouses.” The teams will be welcomed Monday afternoon with an opening ceremony.

While this is an invitational tournament, getting to it hasn’t been simple.

“The girls have raised a lot of money. Thanks to everyone who’s contributed, whether it’s time or money, everything,” Matthews said.

From barbeques to car washes and sponsorships from local businesses, “we’ve pretty much been fundraising for the whole season to get to this,” Matthews said.

The Skyliners have been playing most weekends since late March and will go steadily through to November. Two weeks ago, the Skyliners won the PONY State Tournament.

“These girls are dedicated to the game as every team is. It’s amazing how hard all of the kids work for the game,” Matthews said.

Any of the Skyliner parents or fans who can’t make the trip out to Nebraska can catch some of the tournament through live streaming video online, on a couple of the fields, at the Cat Osterman Experience website, hoffields.com/LiveVideo.aspx.