Alo having the choice of softball leagues shows the growth of the sport

Oklahoma's Alyssa Brito, left, scores while avoiding a tag from Texas wide receiver Mary Iakopo, right, during Game 2 of the NCAA Women's Softball College World Series Finals in Oklahoma City, Okla., Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Ian Maule/ Tulsa World via AP)

Oklahoma’s Alyssa Brito, left, scores while avoiding a tag from Texas wide receiver Mary Iakopo, right, during Game 2 of the NCAA Women’s Softball College World Series Finals in Oklahoma City, Okla., Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Ian Maule/ Tulsa World via AP)

PA

Jocelyn Alo has options, the kind that have eluded female softball players in the past.

The Oklahoma record slugger was drafted by Athletes Unlimited, entering its third season, as well as the new Women’s Professional Fastpitch League, led by former Oklahoma star Lauren Chamberlain. The leagues will overlap this summer, forcing Alo to choose.

All-time leader of the NCAA Division I circuits with 122 and most outstanding player of the 2022 Women’s College World Series, Alo likes that there is a choice. She said she was encouraged by the work being done by the two leagues and sees it as a promising aspect of the overall growth of the sport.

“One, I’m excited to join one of the two. Second, I’m excited to see how good it’s going to get from here because of the college game and how many people want to watch it and stuff like that,” said Alo, who is also a two-time USA Softball Collegiate. Player of the Year and caught the eye of tennis legend Billie Jean King and soccer star Tom Brady. “I’m thrilled for the players who want to keep playing that they’ll have the opportunity and even the little girls in the stands will now say, ‘Oh, now I can be a professional softball player.’

“I think it’s going in a very good direction.”

This direction seems to be upwards. On-site attendance for the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City set many records, including 12,533 people attending the June 4 session and an average of 12,250 spectators per session.

The Championship Series averaged 1.6 million viewers on ESPN – down slightly from a record 1.84 million in 2021. Additionally, for the first time, two World Series games were shown on ABC. in addition to the usual ESPN coverage.

“I never thought that in a million years I would see what’s happening right now. It was amazing,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. “It’s great for our game.”

For years, the game has built crescendo at the World Series, only to see the sport fall into the spotlight and leave fans wanting more.

Athletes Unlimited entered the void. In 2020 the organization began its first softball season and Cat Osterman was the individual champion. Last year, the league signed World Series star Odicci Alexander – the black underdog star James Madison. After the season, the league signed players to its first two-year contracts.

But there was a gap between the end of the College World Series and the start of the Athletes Unlimited season.

This year there is an additional two-week season for Athletes Unlimited, AUX, starting Monday at San Diego State. There are three teams and 42 players competing for an individual title. Competitors include Aleshia Ocasio — last year’s Athletes Unlimited champion — and Georgina Corrick, a rookie who was a finalist for USA Collegiate Softball Player of the Year in South Florida last season.

Athletes Unlimited Vice President Cheri Kempf said ESPN agreed that now was the time to offer something more.

“It really will be the perfect thing to satisfy the excitement of the Women’s College World Series,” she said.

After AUX, the third season of the Athletes Unlimited Championship will run July 29 through August 28, returning to the Chicago area at Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont, Illinois.

The other league, WPF, started in collaboration with USA Softball, the USSSA and Smash It Sports.

The league will begin the exhibition game Tuesday between its two teams, the USSSA Pride and the Smash It Sports Vipers. They will travel across the United States, with the season ending August 6.

The goal is to use the exhibition-style summer slate to gain more information to decide how to proceed after this year.

Both leagues are important from a development perspective, said USA Softball executive director Craig Cress.

In the United States’ Olympic loss to Japan last year, Japanese players — who compete in long-running competitive leagues that limit the number of American entrants — were better prepared for some of the tough times, he said. -he declares.

“That’s what we need the pro leagues to provide is that opportunity for high level performance when it’s tense and they’re put in those positions, they get used to it,” he said. said Cress. “Then it becomes the norm, not the abnormal. And the more reps you can get, the better off you are. So I think it also gives us the opportunity to look at the work of the players, their composition, what they do over a long period of time.

Texas wide receiver Mary Iakopo, who was also drafted by both leagues this year and is on the Vipers roster, said that gives her a lot to look forward to.

“I think right now, I’m just grateful that we even have this opportunity, for those who came before us and those who still do that we can learn from,” she said. “It’s just a really cool thing for our sport, and I can’t wait to see what it will look like in 10 years.”

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

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More AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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