A year ago the Santa Clara PAL Sparks softball team took the State Championship Tournament in San Diego by storm. For the first time in the team’s history, the 12U squad won the tournament. They finished in first place, becoming State Champs despite being considerable underdogs against numerous powerhouse programs from Southern California. The small Santa Clara program had the element of surprise on their side in 2018, but they won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year. They’ll have a target on their backs as the defending champions.
“We’re definitely not going to catch anyone by surprise this year,” said Sparks Head Coach Todd Kleinheinz. “Which is ok, we knew we wouldn’t catch anyone by surprise in the Northern California tournament and we went in there and won seven in a row after dropping the first game on Friday.”
The Sparks had to finish in the top six in the Northern California tournament held at Twin Creeks in Sunnyvale. After losing their first game, the team had to go on a winning streak or they would not have qualified, as it was a double elimination tournament. The seven-straight wins landed them in third place overall, clinching their second-straight berth in the State Games in San Diego.
With only two returners, the Sparks are a significantly younger squad than a year ago, but one of those returners, Olivia Vasquez, thinks their youth can be an advantage.
“Last year, our 12U team was older, as Maryam [Radwan] and I were the youngest ones,” remarked Vazquez. “Now we’re the oldest ones, so a lot of girls came up from the 10U team and so everyone has bonded really quickly. That bonding is especially important because that shows with the way we play on the field. The communication on the field has been strong, because off the field we are friends and we can just talk and have fun.”
Vazquez has been mostly playing second base for the Sparks while leading off at the top of the order. Radwan, meanwhile, has been playing first base and hitting in the heart of the order. The two veterans of the squad definitely play key roles for the fresh-faced Sparks.
“Last year I don’t think we were as close and this year we are all friends. We all have bonded and it makes the tournaments much more fun to play in,” said Radwan. “Last year, I feel like girls just stayed with their family at tournaments and this year you just hang out with friends. I made a lot of new friends this year from the 10U team.”
One of those new friends from last year’s 10U team is Sparks catcher Melody Bouldt. A year ago, Bouldt’s 10U team was also in San Diego for the younger tournament. They were playing their own games simultaneously, but they were able to watch the 12U team win the final game of the tournament.
“It was a lot of fun to hang out with the older girls last year,” recalled Bouldt on last year’s trip to San Diego. “I got to know a lot of them and felt kinda cool as a 10U with the 12U. It was also my first year with the Sparks and everyone was so nice. My fear was that someone would be mean, but that wasn’t the case at all, everyone was super nice.”
The Sparks will open with two round robin games in San Diego starting Friday and then it’s single elimination to try and advance to Sunday’s Championship game and defend their title.
If you would you like to sponsor the Sparks as they represent Santa Clara, you can send donations to Wali Aminyar, PAL Executive Director. They ask that you specify the money should go to the “12U PAL Team San Diego Trip.” Checks can be mailed to Wali Aminyar at 601 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95050 or email Waminyar@santaclaraca.gov.