The Windermere Wildfire 16U softball team won the 2022 USA Softball National Championships after defeating the Atlanta Vipers Hargrave 16U 8-0 Sunday, July 23.
The team started competing at the USA Softball National Championships in 2010 and previously won the championship with the 18U team twice — the first time in 2015 and then again in 2021.
However, for the 16U girls, this was a first.
“It’s always good competition,” head coach and team founder George Paulson said. “This is the first national tournament that this team has played, and we were lucky enough to win it.”
This year, the tournament consisted mostly of teams from the southeastern region of the county; there were no teams from California or Texas.
“Florida, to me, has the best softball and the best competition in the Southeast and maybe in the country,” Paulson said. “If you are one of the better teams in Florida, you are one of the better teams in the country.”
Morgen Talley pitched the entire seven innings in the championship game, allowed zero runs and only two hits while striking out 10 and walking one.
The team secured five runs in the fourth inning by Payton Spears, Elena Friedman, Addison Poe, Amber Chumley and Payton Cushman.
The team’s coaching staff aims to teach team unity and confidence. One of the hardships of the team last season was whether the girls would be able to achieve that. The 2022 16U team was put together last September through a combination of tryouts and word-of-mouth recommendations.
Even though this was the girls’ first time ever playing together, they were able to achieve just that.
“Because the team is new, you never know how they all are going to come together,” Paulson said. “That was the strength of the team (this year)— that they really liked each other. Throughout the course of the season, they learned to compete for each other and love each other and play as a team. That’s something we stress a lot. The girls have to do it, and that’s what they did and that’s the reason they won the tournament.”
Every player on the roster contributed to the team’s success.
“The players (were) really interchangeable, meaning there (was) not a drop off regardless of whatever nine players we (had) on the field,” Paulson said.
According to Paulson, four exhibited the strongest offense throughout the season: Talley and Spears hit in key spots in the lineup— third and fourth; Chumley won the lead spot; and Payton Cushman had a good high school season and hit well.
Along with the success on the scoreboard, the players also learned how to come together as a team.
“It’s really … them learning to compete, viciously, with the other team and with each other, but still love each other and hope for the best for each other and be proud to do well individually,” Paulson said. “That kind of brings out, when they are playing for something bigger, that they are able to pull out a little bit more of themselves, and that’s what we try to bring in and teach them.”
During the 2022 season, the girls instilled a new tradition that will carry on even after these girls are no longer a part of the team.
“We started out a tournament with a loss, and it was kind of an underwhelming effort, and we talked about it after the game,” Paulson said. “I told them they needed to talk to each other, and make some promises to each other, and then keep them out on the field. And so they did that and went out before the game and kind of repeated the promise to each other.”
Paulson said since the moment the team started, the world of travel ball has changed. Some teams have gotten to franchise their names and receive a fee from those teams who “buy their name.”
“We started in Windermere out of Windermere Little League,” Paulson said. “We’ve kept it on a very small scale on purpose. That didn’t use to be unique, but in today’s travel ball world, it is pretty unique — to compete at the level we are competing without all those brands.”
Because the team is young, the entire roster will return next year.
“The sky is the limit for them,” Paulson said. “We’ll continue to play tough tournaments.”