The popular Faster2First (“F2F”) series moves into McKinney, Texas, next month with the third of the four events planned for this fall and winter.
Following stops in Mt. Olive Township, New Jersey, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the F2F tour will bring out top athletes around the Southwest for the December 1-3 weekend event preceding the last F2F weekend, which will be held January 5-7 in Vero Beach, Florida, at Historic Dodgertown.
But first comes the Texans’ time to shine at the new facility in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex called “Diamond Kings,” which the softball world refers to as the “Halo,” and is tied into the Texas Glory organization.
It’s a sparkling new venue proves the axiom that “in Texas, everything is bigger” as the Halo complex features a 200-foot completely turf softball field with spacious 30 by 12 foot dugouts and a second turf field that, through the use of temporary fences, can be set up for baseball or softball games.
There are also five outdoor cages sized at 50 by 15 feet east of the softball field’s first baseline and four 70 by 15 feet cages on the west side of the spacious indoor facility which is over 23,000 square feet.
Inside, the athletes, coaches and family members can enjoy several meeting rooms, upper and lower viewing areas, and a 120 by 150 feet turf surface that houses 20 batting cages.
“We are very excited about having such a great facility to call home and the opportunities for training and development that it will provide,” said Kevin Shelton, head of the Glory program. “Another great benefit is the ability to welcome big events like Faster2First. The Halo's flexibility and versatility provide multiple playing and training surfaces allowing us to optimize multiple activities. Hosting F2F as one of our first big events gives us a great opportunity to show off this state-of-the-art facility.”
Note: space is limited for the Texas Faster2First event. For consideration to be invited, you can call and/or email Faster2First event director Joe Van Valkenburg at 201-741-5390 and firstname.lastname@example.org. For those interested in being considered for one of the approximate 150 spots at the final event in Florida, you can register on the Faster2First.
What Is F2F?
The F2F Showcase is a nice balance of instruction, competition, and exposure. Over about a 48-hour period, the athletes receive classroom instruction, testing, analysis, development, and evaluation off the field, and then compete in drills and ultimately games against other elite athletes.
The data is recorded and videos and photos are taken to help analyze the athletes' performances and also to be used by FloSoftball for Hot 100 consideration and articles and for college coaches to evaluate for recruiting consideration.
The first event held last December in Myrtle Beach saw players from 15 states attend and come from as far away as California and Texas and featured more than 20 FloSoftball Hot 100 players.
The success of the initial event led to the four events this fall and winter with more planned in 2018 across the nation.
Level of Competition
The caliber of players at last December's showcase included Hot 100 players such as 1B/OF Avery Goelz of the Tampa Mustangs TJ, a 2020 commit to Florida, and SS Riley Blampied of Georgia Impact-Newland, also a 2020 commit who is headed to Alabama. These athletes proved on the field why they are headliners in the their class.
The competition also allowed other national standouts — such as Taylor Middlebrook, a 2020 3B/SS with the Birmingham Thunderbolts who committed to Mississippi State during the F2F camp — to wow and impress.
Middlbrook, who was rated No. 97 in the first 2020 Hot 100 list, hit several long home runs and was one of the most impressive players of the more than 150 who attended last year. Her strong play at F2F and in later showcases helped her jump to the No. 33 spot in the latest Hot 100 for her class.
As to why she attended the event, Taylor commented: "I believe I'm one of the best and I wanted to compete with the best!" Her mother, Marcia, added, "Taylor loved the Faster2First camp. Everyone on the staff was awesome and it was a great experience all around."
Younger players shined too, like a pair of top-10 honorees in the 2021 Hot 100: SS Brooke Blankenship of Tampa Mustangs-Hennigar, a commit to Florida State and No. 2-ranked player in her class, and OF McKenzie Redoutey with Georgia Impact-Gusaeff, ranked No. 8 who later verbally committed to LSU. Both players, like the aforementioned 2020 players, made the camp's all-star game.
"Faster2First helped me improve my game by learning from some of the best in the country and playing along the best in the country," Blankenship said. "I stay in touch with my teammates from the all-star game and see them at many tournaments. [F2F officials] did a great job of allowing us to get a lot of awesome reps and play in game situations. It was definitely a place that helped my recruiting process!"
Also wowing coaches and onlookers was Mia Williams from Florida, a 2023 middle infielder for Georgia Impact — Fisher, who recently became one of the very first commits in her class.
And dozens of additional players who weren't on the recruiting radar impressed enough to now be getting recruiting and greatly increase their exposure to college coaches.
Hot 100 Consideration
Events like F2F are hugely helpful not just for what is shown on the field in terms of position-specific skills, but also the growing importance of athletic testing and measurements.
"We're constantly asked, 'How can I get my player considered for the Hot 100 lists?'" explained Brentt Eads, rights acquisition manager of FloSoftball. "The Faster2First format is a great way for us to validate those standouts we know about and thought were Hot 100 caliber while finding new ones who deserved to make the lists.
"Having measurable data that is legit and accurate — like a 2.65 home-to-first time — is a great additional tool to have in helping us select and rank players."
One of the key reasons for the event's success was the on-field directors who come with notable backgrounds of success.
Overseeing the player development aspect of the camp is Rob Crews, considered one of the top hitting coaches in the nation who has worked with MLB teams like the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners, elite DI softball programs like UCLA, Florida, LSU, and Stanford, and top club programs up and down the East Coast including Georgia Impact — whom he accompanied to Colorado for a week this summer — along with Team NC, Carolina Elite, Gold Coast Hurricanes, Atlanta Premier, East Cobb Bullets, TC Tremors, and the NC Lady Blues among others.
An energetic and vocal presence on the field, Crews said of his F2F role: "My job is to help in the selection and organization of the event staff and to get everybody on the same page in understanding how to make Faster2First a unique experience for every participant. It's not easy, though. For example, selecting which technology we're going to use and then training staff on all the technology is probably the most difficult part, but organizing an event comes easy for our staff because — between the F2F administrators and myself — we have so much experience running successful events."
Crews added that he takes the job seriously of evaluating the players at the camp.
"A lot of the subjective evaluations such as hitting to the opposite field, separation in a swing, arm angles, and position specific analysis requires a level of experience to know how to project. We try to keep the numbers as low as realistically possible in order to get all participants ample amount of reps."
The lead talent evaluator and recruiting analyst is Amanda Freed, the former gold-medal-winning Olympian for the USA Softball national team who also won a national championship at UCLA and was a three-time All-American. Freed, now a broadcaster for the Pac-12 Network, will also oversee the pitching components as she was an elite hurler and utility player through her national championship-winning club days all the way through winning a title in the pro ranks.