AURORA | Hauling around a heavy binder, Patty Gasso made her way methodically around the Aurora Sports Park July 3.
Gasso — the head coach of freshly-minted NCAA softball champion University of Oklahoma — has come to the annual Colorado Fireworks tournament in Aurora for years, keeping her eye on the country’s top talent.
One such player — Kelley Reeves, a graduate of Arvada’s Ralston Valley High School — caught Gasso’s eye for the first time at the tournament a few years ago. Reeves ended up signing with the Sooners and played in 18 games during the championship-winning 2013 season.
“This is the tournament where all coaches congregate because you can see so many teams in one place,” said Gasso, who said she’d come to the tournament in all 19 of her years at Oklahoma.
“The weather is great, the facilities are great and the hospitality is phenomenal, so it’s something that’s always circled on your calendar,” she added. “This is where you can get a lot of work done as a coach.”
The Fireworks tournament — celebrating its 44th season in Aurora — in combination with the Sparkler (Westminster) and the Independence (Boulder) brought more than 700 elite prep softball teams to Colorado for a week span, creating a virtual one-stop shopping trip for an estimated 400-plus college coaches.
Gasso has a plan in place when she comes into the tournament as far as which players and teams she wants to watch and has a refined eye for the type of player she wants in her program.
“I look for the way they carry themselves, how they look as an athlete and how they work with their team,” Gasso said. “Are they a leader? Usually when you find that athlete, they are the best player on their team.”
Traditionally, players from California — including many from coach Tony Rico’s Huntington Beach-based Firecrackers, who won the 18-under bracket yet again — get the most attention from college coaches, along with those from Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Florida.
One team of locals — John Waller’s Aurora-based Angels program — improved its stature by going 6-2 to tie for fifth place in the 16-under bracket. A 5-4 quarterfinal loss to Tulsa Elite July 7 ended the Angels’ run.
“To play well in the Fireworks tournament is one of the staples in the diet of your career,” said Waller, who started the Angels program in 2008. “College coaches are here and it’s talent-rich environment, so it is crucial to do well in this tournament.”
Waller’s roster has a number of players from Aurora schools: Grandview’s Emily Supercynski, Eaglecrest’s Tayler Mashburn, Lauren Caldwell of Regis Jesuit and Rangeview’s Angela Cordova.
Their performance at the Fireworks tournament only further enhanced their recruiting profiles. Cordova already has a scholarship offer from Texas Tech — which followed every one of the Angels’ games at last season’s Fireworks tournament — while Seton Hall and South Dakota are among those vying to sign Supercynski.
It was rougher going for coach Dick Hormann’s 16-under Pony Express team — comprised mostly of Hormann’s players from Cherokee Trail High School, plus two from nearby Eaglecrest and one from Erie — which finished 0-6.
No matter what the win or loss record, Hormann believes his players benefit from playing.
“It is a tough tournament; the competition level is about as good as you’ll see anywhere in the United States,” Hormann said. “We struggle at times and we do well at times; there doesn’t seem to be much inbetween. The whole idea is to allow these kids to develop for high school, become better players and get noticed. This is a good place for them to get noticed.”
Cherokee Trail sophomore-to-be Alyssa Berteaux — a catcher, third baseman and outfielder for the Pony Express — admits she thinks about making herself marketable to colleges often.
“I basically think about it daily,” said Berteaux, who plays catcher, third base and some outfield. “That’s my main goal.”
Local players also got their chance to shine at the Sparkler tournament, which is run by the same organization as the Fireworks, Triple Crown Sports.
Grandview coach Dave Thies led the 16-under Colorado Stampede squad that includes a number of players who will suit up for the Wolves in the fall — including standout pitcher Courtney Browne — along with a couple from Cherokee Trail and an assortment of other schools.
The Stampede also performed well in the holiday tournament, winning the Longs Peak Bracket of the Sparkler and finishing 8-2. They will play in the USSSA World Series July 22-28 in Kansas City.
Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at [email protected] or 303-750-7555