This year marks the third Triple Crown NAIA College Classic, slated for Feb. 9-11, 2018, and presented by the TCS California fastpitch franchise. It’s one of the true unique gems on the schedule, as more than 10 NAIA programs descend on the Big League Dreams complex in West Covina, CA, to show their stuff.
On Friday evening, the NAIA teams and any interested high-schoolers will be invited to the Biola University campus for a session of Church in the Dirt; the event features U.S. Olympian Jennie Finch and Team USA members Ali Aguilar, Aubree Munro, Michelle Moultrie and Nikki Udria. On Saturday evening and Sunday morning, these athletes will be on hand at BLD to interact with the NAIA and youth players on hand.
The level of play will be terrific, and it’s also a chance for youth players in the area who are eyeballing a college career to get as look at the NAIA brand up close. Here’s a capsule look at the teams coming to West Covina – click HERE for the schedule.
California University-Marymount (Palos Verdes, CA) – The Mariners went 18-25 last year and now welcome new coach Shane Schumaker. His hopes for a turnaround get a major boost from sophomore center fielder Nicole Barrow (.341, 42 starts, 9 SB), junior shortstop Princess Nava (.321) and pitcher Mary Gonzlaes, who won 10 games a year ago and hit .316 with 22 RBI.
Carroll College (Helena, MT) – The Saints had a 2017 record of 15-21; look for another year of solid production from Anna ApRoberts, a sophomore who hit .287 last year. Ashley Davis (.359) and Allison Bayer (.358) are also back in the fold.
Hope International (Fullerton, CA) – The Royals wrapped up 2017 with a 30-17 record, the best-ever win total for the program. Justice Walker returns after hitting .370 with 13 triples and 31 stolen bases in 2017; pitcher Tori Banks won 15 games last year and had a 2.52 ERA.
La Sierra University (Riverside, CA) – The Golden Eagles’ roster is going through some serious churn, with 20 players coming aboard in this June’s recruiting class. The team finished 22-24-1 last year but has some punch coming back in Genifer Garbellini (.416, 35 RBI) and Berlyn Benavides (.338, 29 stolen bases).
Menlo College (Atherton, CA) – The Oaks had a 31-18 record last season and have more than a few key contributors returning in sophomore pitcher Victoria Cervantes (14 wins, 1.91 ERA) and infielders Cassie Grana (started all 49 games, hitting .322) and Bryce Etzler (team-high .386 with 13 doubles).
Northwest Christian (Eugene, OR) – There’s nowhere to go but up for the Beacons, who are back in the fight after going 4-38 last season. Avery Daniels started every game as a freshman and was second on the team with 30 hits and led the team with 19 RBI.
Ottawa University (Phoenix, AZ) – The Spirit is a brand-new enterprise athletically; 21 sports sprang to life in August 2017. The softball team’s head coach is Lou Dobbins, who has 20 years of experience coaching in college.
San Diego Christian College (Santee, CA) – The Hawks will look for a bounce from new coach Sarah Hershman-McGrath; the team was 26-23 last season and welcomes back all-league junior outfielder Jordan Neal (.368, 8 HR last year).
Southern Oregon University (Ashland, OR) – The Raiders had a breakout season last year, going 46-15 and reaching the final six of the NAIA World Series. All-American shortstop Kelsey Randall is back for her senior campaign after hitting .431 last year (she added 10 triples and 29 stolen bases), as is catcher classmate Harlee Donovan (.367, 11 HR, 63 RBI). Three returning pitchers combined to win 40 game last season with a 1.73 ERA.
Vanguard University (based in Costa Mesa, CA) – The Lions went 46-15 last season, reaching the first round of the NAIA World Series. Coach Beth Renkoski is back for her 22nd season.
William Jessup University (Rocklin, CA) – The Warriors closed last year at 22-17, and pitcher Shelbi Graifman returns after ringing up 14 wins with a 2.12 ERA. There’s a nice buzz around the program, which reached the Golden State Athletic Conference championship game for the first time last spring.
Cancer’s presence is a part of life and a familiar force in the world, but there’s nothing more shocking and scary than the disease claiming a young child.
Kidney cancer took Faith Anderson from her family’s embrace in five short months after diagnosis; Faith was one of two twin girls born in May of 2008, showing an athletic presence and a natural ability to fill the room with energy before passing away three months ahead of her sixth birthday.
Parents Ryan and Lilly Anderson and daughters Grace and Rosie were surrounded with love and support from their southern California neighbors and friends. Of course, the healing is not done, but guided by their religious beliefs the Andersons are hoping to honor Faith’s life by reaching out to others.
One route for that is the annual Faith Strong Charity fastpitch softball event. New in 2017, is the addition of two sessions. Session #1 is scheduled for June 3-4 at Big League Dreams in Riverside and Perris, CA. Session #2 is slated for June 17-18 and will be played at Rosetta Canyon Park in Lake Elsinore.
Support from the community was strong enough to launch the first Faith Strong benefit tournament in 2014, just a handful of months after Faith lost her battle. Response was strong within the softball community, and the event ended up using extra fields at a nearby high school.
“It’s been a long road. In some ways, we’ve turned the corner in realizing that life goes on, and we feel the need to push ahead for our two girls and keep life as normal as possible,” said Ryan, a teacher at Woodcrest Christian School who has worked Triple Crown fastpitch events in site support for nearly 11 years. “We’ve been able with the tournament to reach out to others who are hurting even as we know we aren’t completely healed and may never be.
“One thing you learn in this is how other people are going through similar things, and that helps you not feel so much like God is pointing a finger at you or punishing you. It’s all about how you bounce back, because that defines who you are.”
In 2017, Big League Dreams has cleared out two facilities for the event, and by reducing game fees creates an immediate boost in the money organizers can clear. Umpires waive their fee for the first game they work each day, and the entire span of staff support (vendors, field workers, site crew, etc.) volunteers their labor for the weekend.
“We have everybody on about a three- or four-hour shift, and we just cycle through,” said TCS softball event director Travis Cotsenmoyer. “Everyone knows each other, and we all love Ryan’s family and are aware of their situation and what they went through. Everybody wants to help, but there’s also an awareness that it’s nice to show your face and support the cause.”
Proceeds from the tournament in Year 1 went straight to the Anderson family, to help them deal with the onerous costs of medical treatment for Faith. For this event, resources will flow to several landing spots:
As one can imagine, the first Faith Strong event was a powerful moment for all involved.
“It was very emotional. I was barely able to attend, and that’s all I could hope to do, just be there,” Ryan said. “To be able to show my gratitude to all the people who had reached out to us was important, and the whole thing was amazing. Teams that I didn’t know personally were sharing stories, players wore T-shirts in honor of Faith, and this one group of girls made headbands for the tournament and then presented them to our two girls.
“We’re believers in the Bible; God gives us blessings, and the trials we face are to help us grow. I know life isn’t fair, and I’ve known it since an early age having lost my parents early. We’ve tried to turn this into something else – God, what can I do to learn and how can I help other people?”
Emotions still churn in a world where the bedroom and backyard and dinner table feel profoundly empty. But from that tragic, dark space the Anderson family is moving on, and they are trying hard to step back into the light.
You can donate to this powerful cause in a couple of ways:
Take your check made out to Faith Anderson Cancer Fund and take it to and Chase Bank in the country – Chase will deposit it directly into that account.
Or, mail your check to Triple Crown’s SoCal office:
Triple Crown Sports
14427 Meridian Parkway, Suite F
Riverside, CA 92518
Attn: Faith Anderson Cancer Fund