Verde Valley Heat Elite turning heads in 14U girls’ fastpitch
PRESCOTT — Verde Valley Heat Elite’s 14-and-Under fastpitch softball team, a conglomerate of girls from Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Cornville, Prescott and Flagstaff, has been opening eyes in softball circles across northern Arizona for the past two-plus years.
Thanks to its success in National Softball Association (NSA) tournaments, USSSA tourneys and at Triple Crown events, Heat Elite and its confident, cool-headed coach, Richard Ayersman of Clarkdale, intend to continue strengthening the program.
Saturday at sun-bathed Pioneer Park, Heat Elite cruised to victories in its first two pool-play games of the NSA School’s Out for the Summer Tournament, shutting out Batbusters 14U-Burns (Prescott Valley), 8-0, and downing Ruthless Vasquez, 9-3.
Heat Elite’s players love to compete, but they like being together as much as anything else, it seems.
“It’s been definitely a lot of friendships – a lot of people are really close,” said Heat Elite pitcher Alexis Ayersman, Richard’s daughter. “Every tournament and every game, we all back each other up, and it makes everything easier.”
Heat Elite, currently a Class B team rated seventh out of 60 squads in the USSSA state rankings, concluded the day at 3-0 after beating Storm 14U, 6-2.
On Sunday the Elite Heat beat the Batbusters 14-2 and then the Storm 12-0 to take the title.
From August 2017 through June 3, Heat Elite 14U has compiled a 33-14 overall record. This August, Heat Elite plans to move up to 14U’s higher Class A ranks. Ayersman said his girls know that they need to try and meet individual goals as well as team goals heading into each tournament.
“They’ve pretty much been together since they were 8 years old,” coach Ayersman said of his Heat Elite team. “We’re representing northern Arizona, and that’s what we love. For our age group, these girls that we assembled on this team are some of the top players from northern Arizona, hands down.”
Turn Up the Heat
Ace pitcher Alexis Ayersman, ace pitcher/first baseman Marissa Vocca, second baseman Ella Behlow, shortstop Emma Agronovitz, third baseman/pitcher Cheyniya Thompson and leftfielder Mackenzie Figy lead Heat Elite as 14-year-olds.
Alexis and Marisa will be freshmen at Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood in 2018-19. Both plan to take a break from Heat Elite and play softball for Mingus next spring.
Catcher Sydnee Stapleton, centerfielder Makena Watson, right fielder Cameron Jones and catcher Kiki Saravo, all 13-year-olds, round out the 10-player tournament roster.
“These girls are very intelligent young ladies — honor roll students, every one of them,” coach Ayersman added. “They have to be pushed that way, and goal-oriented. That’s how we keep getting the most out of these girls.”
Agronovitz, the team’s lone player from Prescott, moved from Southern California with her family about four years ago.
She said she joined Heat Elite because it’s so competitive. After getting a phone call from coach Ayersman, Agronovitz was sold. Agronovitz will play softball for Tri-City Prep in Prescott next spring, taking a short break from Heat Elite before rejoining the travel team in the summer.
“The coaches are great; the girls are awesome,” Agronovitz added.
Thompson, 14, recently moved from Atlanta to Flagstaff with her family. Thompson, who started playing softball at age 12 and will attend Flagstaff High School as a freshman this fall, picked up the win on the pitcher’s slab against Ruthless Vasquez behind a sturdy combination of fastballs and changeups.
“I love the girls — they’re all really weird and funny,” said Thompson, who wants to play JV or varsity softball at Flagstaff. “We’re like a family, and we like to make fun of each other a lot.”
Stapleton, an eighth-grader at Mountain View Prep in Cottonwood, has suited up for Heat Elite for the past 2-1/2 to 3 years, starting at 10U. She said the team’s strong in every facet of the game — hitting, pitching and defense.
“We’re all really close as a team, compared to other teams, and we all love to talk to each other and hang out,” Stapleton said. “Our communication is really good because of that, and we really know that we have each other’s backs, no matter what. We’ve all been playing together for so long. It’s just like that trust out there that helps us.”
Movin’ On Up
In the summer of 2017, Heat Elite’s 12U team won the first NSA Southwest World Series in Prescott. That club was ranked No. 1 among 60 teams at the Class B level. Now Heat Elite’s players believe they will make even more waves in 14U, and in 2019 at 16U.
“That was really big for all of us,” Stapleton said of Heat Elite claiming the SW World Series title via an unbeaten run.
Added Vocca, “It boosted up our confidence because in that tournament we never gave up, and it showed us that we can really push through game after game after game.”
This weekend, Heat Elite will compete at the 144-team “Zoom into June” 14U Triple Crown tournament in Riverside, California, where the girls will be tested. Coach Ayersman said it’s the second-largest college recruiting event in the nation.
“We want to help them take the next level [in college] — an athletic scholarship and some kind of academic scholarship, too,” added coach Ayersman about his Heat Elite players. “We’ve got some really talented girls, and a lot of them can go to that next level.”
Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.