DAYTON, Ohio - Three Dayton Flyers softball players experienced the trip of a lifetime this summer (Aug. 3-12), competing for the USA Athletes International softball team in Italy. Sophomores Allie Falk and Emily Stegeman, along with incoming freshman Raime Cronkhite, represented UD and the United States of America in the Arezzo Softball/Baseball International Tournament.
The Team USAs consisted of women from Illinois, California, Georgia, South Carolina, Iowa, Ohio and Michigan. USA Athletes International sponsors 13 sports and has been represented at tournaments on six continents. The organization believes the principle that sport has the power to unite people and change the world.
"The thing I will remember most about this trip is the people," said Cronkhite. "We grew very close and spent a lot of time together in nine days. Plus, playing on a softball field with houses on an Italian hillside as the backdrop was very cool."
For these three girls from the Midwest - Cronkhite from Grand Rapids, Mich., Falk from Hudson, Iowa, and Stegeman from Dayton, Ohio - the chance to tour Europe, meet friends that will last a lifetime, and play internationally, is something they will never forget.
"This trip was about travelling, competing and experiencing," said Falk. "It gave us the opportunity to compete at the international level, and learn about other cultures on and off the field. We met people we would have otherwise never had the opportunity to do so."
Falk and Stegeman were on the Team USA squad that went 6-1 and brought home the runners-up trophy, falling 7-5 in the championship game to the host team Italy. Cronkhite's Team USA finished the tournament with a 5-2 mark. Both squads competed against teams from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Malta.
In addition to all the action on the diamond, the girls took a two-day tour of Rome, visited the Coliseum, the Basilica of Saint Peter, The Vatican, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the beautiful countryside of Siena, Italy. They even got to make an authentic Italian pizza.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Stegeman. "I'll never forget playing against the international teams, walking into the beautiful churches where the pictures just say it all, learning the history, and learning the culture."
The USA Teams were inundated with interest from the other international squads.
"We met so many people who would trade just about anything to get USA gear," said Cronkhite. "This makes me realize we sometimes take advantage of what we have. We get the chance to learn and play softball at a young age. Some of the other countries don't get the opportunities that we do."
Falk even gave complimentary pitching lessons to the German squad.
"There were six girls who asked a lot of questions and were open to new things to help them with their pitching," she said. "It gave me confidence that they saw me pitching and sought me out for advice."
The athletes hope to use this experience as a springboard to a successful 2009 campaign for the Dayton softball program. Last year the Flyers recorded their first 20-win campaign in three years and more than doubled their Atlantic 10 win total from the 2007 season.
"Playing in this tournament helped prepare me. I saw different levels of play and got international experience," said Stegeman.
"I just want to play softball and I'll play in the position where the team needs me most," added Cronkhite. "I think this trip made me more of a team player."
Cronkhite played catcher and second base for her squad, while Falk pitched for hers. Here is Emily Stegeman's take on how they played:
"Every game I saw Raime she was playing catcher. She did really well blocking, threw a girl out at second base and picked someone off at first. Allie pitched great. She got ahead of batters and struck out a lot of people. She hit in the No. 4 spot and did a really nice job."
Stegeman played her normal role as shortstop. Allie Falk gives her commentary:
"Emily, of course played shortstop, and did very well. She has played that position for so long it's like second nature to her. She batted second and did her job of moving runners and getting on base."