The end of July marked the close of another successful summer fast-pitch season for the Forest Lake Area Fastpitch Association.
During the 2013 season, 172 players participated on 15 teams ranging from 8 & Under (8U) to 18 & Under (18U). Of these squads, the 18U Rangers took second place out of 26 teams at the North American Fastpitch Association Northern Nationals in Chaska in late July, while the 10U Rangers took seventh out of 64 at the Northern Nationals in Bloomington.
The 14U Rangers also clinched a top-10 finish with ninth place out of 68 teams at the NAFA Northern Nationals in Eden Prairie. Three other teams, 12U, 16U Rangers and 16U Maroon, also qualified for the NAFA competition.
The impressive finishes didn’t stop there. The 14U, 16U and 18U squads represented just one of two community-based associations selected by application to compete in the Upper Midwest Fastpitch League this summer — most teams are clubs with players from a variety of locations. Both the 14U and 16U teams placed fifth at the UMFL state tournament, while 18U brought home third-place honors.
“It is unique for a community-based association to be able to field elite-level teams with the majority of the players from a local area,” president of the Forest Lake Area Fastpitch Association Jeanette Baniecke said. “These teams consistently compete well with many club teams whose organizations field teams with the ‘best’ players from a wide variety of areas. FLAFA is able to field competitive teams and provide growth and training to players close to their own home, while keeping player’s individual costs lower than many other organizations.”
Baniecke also pointed out that not only are FLAFA teams invited to play at elite tournaments, but competitive teams also travel to Forest Lake to compete in two local tournaments. FLAFA hosted the Fast & Furious tourney of 40 teams at 10U, 12U and 14U age levels in early June, as well as the Fury II tournament of 22 teams for 16U and 18U in late June. It was estimated that more than 1,800 softball players, coaches, parents and fans from the metro area, Duluth, Wisconsin and Canada attended the two events at Fenway Athletic Park and Columbus City Park fields, where five FLAFA teams took third place or higher.
Baniecke said the showcases brought many positive comments about the Forest Lake community softball program and its facilities.
Forest Lake head softball coach Angie Ryan also said it is important to keep FLAFA going strong as it is a good feeder program for the high school squads.
“We know how many talented players we have in the Forest Lake area,” Ryan said. “We compete at the highest level with these club teams — it is unique, exciting and so good because we do it together as a community-based team.”
Baniecke and Ryan both said the coaching instruction and volunteers are what keep FLAFA running and helped contribute to another stellar year for the softball athletes. FLAFA’s two top elite teams were coached by Anoka-Ramsey Community College head coach and athletic director Dave Alto (18U) and St. Thomas softball standout Alyssa Dunrud and Forest Lake Ranger assistant coach Erin Casey (16U).
“Both the FLAFA summer teams and high school softball program have continued to experience growth and success over a number of years due to the commitment of a dedicated FLAFA board of directors, a number of committed coaches, and many parent volunteers,” Baniecke said.
While summer ball is over for FLAFA, the organization already has fall teams formed with 127 players signed up for the Minnesota Metro Fastpitch League from late August to early November with tryouts for the 2014 14U, 16U and 18U teams set for Sunday, Oct. 6.