LAKEWOOD RANCH — Their colors and mascot may have changed, but the Tampa Mustangs 14U travel softball team’s philosophy hasn’t.
Formerly the Suncoast Storm, the team joined the Tampa Mustangs organization in August as a way to garner national recognition in the hopes of playing collegiate softball.
“We’re the same team,” Maddie Biggs says. “We’re just in different uniforms.”
Teammate Kylie Toler agrees.
“Our team is what put us where we are,” Toler says.
The transition came on the heels of the girls finishing fourth out of 90 teams in the 14U “A” division of the USSSA World Series last summer. The team finished 8-3 and received the 14s division Team Sportsmanship Award.
Following the tournament, the director of the Tampa Mustangs approached the Storm about the possibility of joining the Mustangs organization based on the strength of their resume, sportsmanship and reputation.
The girls weren’t quite sure what to expect at first, but after looking at the opportunities the move would present, the players began to embrace their new identity.
“I knew it was a good change for us,” Biggs says. “We’ll get more invites to college showcases (this way).”
Even though the girls now play for the Tampa Mustangs, they continue to practice at the Miss Manatee Softball Complex — the same fields where the majority of the players began their softball careers some eight years ago.
“It was weird at first, because I’ve been on the Storm ever since I started playing,” Toler says. “It was (difficult) to understand why at first, but then it became much more exciting.”
Shortly after making the transition, the girls were named the No.1 14U team in the country according to youth1.com.
The girls took the field for the first time as the Tampa Mustangs in August; they finished 6-0 and qualified for the ASA Nationals this summer in Illinois.
“We were able to make our mark as the Mustangs,” Toler says.
The Mustangs went on to play in a round-robin tournament at Florida State University, the NFCA Top Recruit Tournament Showcase, the Disney Diamond 9 College Showcase and the Xtreme Dimensions USF Elite Tournament, at which they played up against 16U and 18U teams.
The Tampa Mustangs closed out 2012 by winning their 12th tournament title of the year at the USFA Wounded Warrior College Showcase. The team beat the USA Patriots Gold, one of the top-ranked 16U teams in the state, 3-1 in the final to win the tournament.
“It helps that we’ve played together (for so long) because we gel together,” Biggs says. “You can trust who you’re throwing the ball to.”
The girls played in 19 tournaments in 2012, reaching the championship game in 14 of those games en route to winning 12 championships. The team finished the year 108-23-1 and won all of the tournaments it played in as the Tampa Mustangs.
“We’ve kept the same players, coaches and system, but this gives us more national recognition,” coach T.J. Goelz says. “It’ll help get their names (out there) and add to the invites that we maybe wouldn’t get before.
“We know whoever is going to be on the field is going to be a good team,” Goelz says. “We want to play the best competition we can.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].