Two former Arkansas-Pine Bluff softball players as well as head coach Tiffany Ansley and current player Kelsey Ridgeway will make the trip over the pond later this month to represent the USA Athletes International team in the Netherlands and Germany.
“I think it is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Ansley said. “And it is going to bring in some good publicity for the school.
“It is a chance for the girls to reach out to a different country and experience new things.”
Graduated senior Emilee Gwyn and alum Heather Leigh — who played in Australia last summer for USAAI — will join their former teammates.
“We will get to see both sides of Amsterdam, so we will see the whole country, as well as Germany,” Gwyn said.
Gywn and Ridgeway, who are from Florida and Hot Springs, respectively, have never been outside the country so it is a brand new experience for both of them.
“I’m very excited,” Ridgeway said.
The tournament, which lasts from July 19-28, will consist of five days of games with the team playing twice a day. Ansley — who was selected as one of the coaches — will split her duties with another coach.
“We leave on a Saturday and get there on a Sunday and play as early as Monday,” Anlsey said.
The team — which is made up of 11 players — will also get two days to tour the two countries. One of the things the girls were looking forward to was visiting the Anne Frank House.
“We will get to experience history face-to-face, instead of just reading it out of a textbook,” Gwyn said.
Gwyn believes the experience will be beneficial for the UAPB program.
“I think it will help a lot,” Gwyn said. “It will help get the UAPB name out there.
“Coming from out of state, I had never even heard of it until I was being recruited. I had no idea what UAPB stood for until I got here.”
Ridgeway, who batted .275 last season with 17 RBIs, hopes the experience will improve her game.
“I think it will be good,” Ridgeway said. “The experience of looking at different pitchers and different styles of play.
“It is a whole different level. There is high school, there’s college, but this is international.
“There are a lot of things that can be learned from it.”
USA Athletes International, founded in 1992, is a non-profit organization which gives amateur athletes and coaches the opportunity to participate in Olympic-style sporting events and broaden their educational and cultural knowledge of the world through the experience, according to its website.
“I think the people we play with and against are going to help us open doors to a lot of things,” Ridgeway said. “The whole experience in itself is kind of amazing.”
With Leigh having competed in the Down Under Cup Challenge last summer, her experience has been beneficial to the newbies as they prepare for their upcoming trip.
“She has helped a lot,” Ansley said. “She has gone over with us what to expect.
“It has been nice because we aren’t going into blind.”
Gwyn said she had to pack her own washcloths because there isn’t any in the hotels in Germany and Leigh also told them to make sure they had the right power adapters for plug-ins.
“And to call our credit card companies and let them know we would be out of the country,” Ansley said. “(Leigh) has been very beneficial.”
The cost of the trip was $5,000 per person but it included meals, travel expenses and uniforms. The group has been working since late November to raise enough money.
Donations to help with the USAAI team’s travel expenses are accepted and tax-deductible. Anyone interested in donating is asked to call program coordinator Darrell Phipps at 913-397-9024.
Once the trip is over, Gwyn said she plans on trying out for one of the teams in National Pro Fastpitch, the only professional women’s softball league in the U.S.
“There are four main ones including one in Chicago and Florida,” Gwyn said. “But they are very competitive.”
She said if that doesn’t pan out, she plans on going to medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon. Ridgeway, who is currently majoring in biology, would like to become a college softball coach.
“I think they are excited and are looking forward to this experience,” Ansley said.