CLEARWATER — Florida State, the defending national champion, has been the most dominant team in college softball the first two weeks of the season.
The Seminoles, No. 1 in the USA Today/NFCA coaches poll, were the only team that went undefeated at the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational, including wins against three top-10 programs (Oklahoma, LSU and Tennessee).
Better still, FSU is doing with a starting lineup that includes three locals — utility/pitcher Cassidy Davis (Newsome), infielder Morgan Noah (Sickles), utility player Elizabeth Mason (Gaither).
That is not by accident.
“The Tampa Bay area has definitely been a focal point in recruiting,” FSU coach Lonni Alameda said. “You’ve got to win the state in recruiting and that’s a mind-set we have. We’re also about 20 minutes from the Georgia state line, so we really try to hit those areas hard.”
The emphasis started with Maddie O’Brien, a former Palm Harbor University standout who set all kinds of hitting records when she played for the Seminoles from 2012-15, and continued with former Alonso star Jessica Warren, who led the school to its first national title before graduating.
“We’ve had success and there’s a big benefit to having kids from the area come to your summer camps and see Jessica Warren competing at the highest level,” Alameda said. “The great thing about television being out there is kids get to see who they want to emulate. Locals see Jessie and want to be a part of what we’re building. Success breeds success.”
The Seminoles have made inroads with coaches on the high school and travel circuit by building personal relationships.
When Newsome High assistant coach Greg Feldman’s wife, Christine, died from diabetes complications in January, FSU sent a card signed by all three members of the coaching staff to offer their condolences.
“FSU had recruited my daughters Claire (junior at Utah) and Mary Beth (a senior at Newsome),” said Feldman, who also coaches a travel team. “They didn’t go there, but the coaches still kept in touch. To do something like that was special. The whole staff is just first class.”
Added Alameda: “I don’t think you do something like that just for recruiting purposes. You get to know the people and how great the family was. I mean, we’re all human.”
The local pipeline of Seminole recruits will continue for years to come. Riverview catcher Kaia LoPreste (class of 2019) already has signed with FSU. And Academy at the Lakes’ Brooke Blankenship, Admiral Farragut’s Krystina Hartley and East Lake’s Katie Bright (all class of 2021) are Seminole commits.
“The area has great talent with lots of athletic kids,” Alameda said. “And we’ve got a lot of them coming our way.”
A star in the making
Callie Turner attended the invitational Sunday as a spectator. The Land O’Lakes High senior was there to watch Tennessee, the team she will be playing for in college next season.
Before the Volunteers’ tournament finale against FSU, Turner was approached by a young girl who wanted her autograph.
“That was first time someone has come up to me without really knowing me and asked for an autograph,” said Turner, who has led the Gators to a state title and is on the 2019 USA Softball Junior Women’s National Training Team. “There were three other Tennessee pitchers around me when it happened. It took me by surprise, but it was really cool. It’s something I’ll have to get used to.”
This weekend was a homecoming for Florida Atlantic’s Sloan Hammons. The former Durant High standout pitcher player was among several locals in the invitational.
“Cassidy Davis (FSU/Newsome) I played with on the Florida Fire,” Hammons said. “I haven’t caught up with her in who knows how long. I saw so many others, too. It’s been nice to be back in the same place. Plus, the weather was nice and we had great competition.”