by Marlys Kruger
Elk Mound senior-to-be Abbey Olsen had a chance to compete at the national level on the softball diamond in the Dominican Republic the last week of July as a member of the American International Sports Teams (AIST) U19 team.
Olsen was selected for the team which consists of top players from the midwest after a tryout last August in Eau Claire. She was one of 100 girls from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois recommended by AIST recruiters to try out and 54 girls chose to attend the tryout. Jenny Hess, an assistant coach at UW-Stout and the AIST Stars coach had seen Olsen play both school and summer ball and was impressed with her athletic ability.
“We look at player’s stats and their desire to play at a high level,” Hess said. “We thought she would be a good fit for the team because she can play infield and outfield and she has talent and a passion for the game.”
Olsen, along with her mom Jill, dad Lance and older sister MiKayla made a family vacation out of the trip to the Dominican where she played seven games with her team in the Santa Domingo Fastpitch Classic tournament. Her Stars team won three games in pool play, then ended up finishing second after losing the championship game to the Dominican National team. With 10 players on her team, Olsen was on the field most of the time, playing shortstop, second base and in the outfield. Although she pitched some for her Elk Mound team, her AIST team had players who excelled on the mound and took care of that job.
Besides the language barrier, Olsen discovered there were several differences in softball from around here to softball in the Dominican, including the style of play and the field conditions.
“The players from the teams down there don’t take things real serious,” she said. “They always seemed to be having fun whether they were winning or losing. We also have very specific rules to follow in high school and summer ball up here but the officials were very easy going and didn’t have very strict rules there. Because it is so hot and dry there, the field was hard and the balls they used were very worn and hard to grip. They don’t tie the bases down either so they moved whenever you stepped on them or tried to slide into them. The other teams loved it when we brought out our new softballs because they would go further when they were hit,” she added with a laugh. “But the teams we played were very good. They had good pitchers and were very athletic. It really helped my game playing in that environment and facing that competition.”
The American team put on a clinic for local players ages six to about 18 in which they donated some of their extra equipment to the girls.
“It is a very poor area and they were thankful to us for giving them equipment that was better than what they had,” Olsen said. “Even though we had trouble communicating because most of us didn’t speak Spanish we took a lot of pictures with the younger kids and the girls we played against. We all had a lot of fun looking at the photos so this was a good way to visit.”
Olsen knew several of her teammates by either playing with them in summer ball through the Seymour League or playing against them in tournaments, but the rest she met when they took off from New York to the Dominican.
“A few of our girls had a parent with them but several were by themselves because you have to pay for the trip yourself,” she said. “Our coach did a great job of keeping an eye on everyone and making sure we had an enjoyable time. I would recommend it to any girl who wants to experience playing on a team where they are representing their country and getting the opportunity to travel out of the country to play ball. It was amazing putting on a USA jersey and getting to play seven games in it. I made lifelong friends and even had the chance to do some sight seeing. We went on a boat ride to an island, toured a very old church and some historic caves. This is something I or my family probably would not have done otherwise. There are tryouts every year and you can contact Jenny Hess and find out more information. It is something I will always remember.”
Olsen intends to play fall softball in the area and finish off her senior year for the Mounders. As far as playing college ball, that will depend on whether she is recruited by a school who has the program she wants to go into.
“I love working with animals and want to go into veterinary science,” she said. “So time will tell if I play at the college level or not,” she concluded.