Emma Hawthorne

Sunday, June 13th was the day that all of the collegiate softball players had to report in Sarasota, Florida to play in the Florida Gulf Coast League.

My teammate from Northwestern State University, Jensen Howell, and I decided to drive instead of flying so we could have our own transportation throughout the season.

We left on Friday, and it was about a 15-hour drive. We left early in the morning and took turns driving so we ended up arriving in Sarasota later that night.

We felt coming two days early would allow us to settle in figure out the area. Our hotel is in a great location, and there are many restaurants and shops close to us. We also went to Siesta Key Beach on Saturday before we started playing softball.

Orientation began at 3 p.m. at our hotel on Sunday. The director explained how the season would go and introduced us to our coaches. Because of COVID-19, the director explained that it was difficult to figure out the playing schedules and the location of the games due to the different county rules in Florida.

It was not until Thursday they were able to confirm the game schedules and locations.

The FGCL league has partnered with Square Up Academy, which is a practice facility in Bradenton. This is a top-notch facility has 10 batting cages and a gym, which will be available to all of the players in the league for the entire season. I know that it must have been difficult for the Florida Gulf Coast League and the Square Up Academy staff to alter their plans at such a short notice, so I am very thankful for all of the hard work and time they put in to make this summer softball season possible.

Monday after orientation, we began mini-camp, which continued for the next three days. Mini-camp consisted of team hitting practice at the Square Up Academy in the morning and then defensive practice and scrimmages in the evening at the fields. This camp allowed us to get to know our coaches and teammates and prepare us for the season.

My teammates are from all over the country and come from many different divisions and conferences. I am looking forward to creating friendships that will last a lifetime while also playing against good competition. Along with getting to play with great athletes, we also have a strong coaching staff with a lot of experience. The manager of my team is Ricky Reyes. He is also the manager for Pro Buff Elite Sports which is a baseball travel ball organization.

My head coach is Ashton Hinds who is originally from California, but now resides in Florida. She played Division I softball at Bethune-Cookman from 2007-2011. She was selected to the Second Team All-Conference in 2010 and 2011 and also ranks third on the all-time runs scoring list. She has coached at the Division I and Division II level for Savannah State University, Lynn University, and Bethune-Cookman University.

As a player and coach, she has three conference championships and three regional appearances.

My assistant coach is Craig Toler who has been a travel ball coach for the Tampa Mustangs and has led them to many national championships. He also coaches at Lakewood Ranch High School who was ranked No. 1 this past season by MaxPreps.

I am so excited to increase my knowledge of the game from my summer coaches. This first week has shown me that is going to be a great opportunity to become a better player and learn more about the game while experiencing some of the great things South Florida has to offer.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Emma Hawthorne is a Hallsville High School graduate who also graduated in May from Northwestern State University with a degree in health and exercise science. She plans to return to Northwestern State in the fall to pursue a master’s degree and play a final season of softball. This summer she’ll play softball with team Impact in the Florida Gulf Coast League, and she has agreed to share her experiences with News Messenger readers.