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Area softball stars offer hope

Casey Stangel, who is in her first year at the Universitiy of Missouri, is sharing her knowledge of what it takes to play college softball. (Kathy Plonka)
Casey Stangel, who is in her first year at the Universitiy of Missouri, is sharing her knowledge of what it takes to play college softball. (Kathy Plonka)

Jenna DeLong is coaching in the sport that paid for her college education.

She’s now scouring the nation as an assistant at Texas A&M- Commerce looking for players, well, like herself when she dominated the softball diamond at Coeur d’Alene High School.

University of Missouri freshman Casey Stangel, who last spring capped an undefeated state championship season at Lake City, is nearing the end of her first collegiate semester without a financial care in the world thanks to an athletic scholarship.

Lake City senior Vanessa Shippy, considered by college scouts to be among the best infielders in the nation, signed last week to play at Oklahoma State.

DeLong, Stangel and Shippy will be part of a three-hour clinic Sunday displaying the skills that earned them opportunities for higher education. They’ll also be answering questions and encouraging young athletes that they, too, can earn a scholarship. The clinic will be at Premier Sports Center in Post Falls (5980 E. Commerce Loop).

They want young girls to know that they don’t have to be landlocked by the fact that in this region, particularly North Idaho, winters can last longer than summers. It’s not where you’re from that matters. It’s how hard do you want to work.

All of them agree on this point – there are no shortcuts.

“I remember back in high school I had to give up a social life, high school dances and not go to the parties,” DeLong, 24, said. “I continued to play basketball but it took hard work to get what I wanted.”

DeLong, who played four years at Drake University, was an assistant at NCAA Division III University of Texas at Dallas the past two years. Then in early August the opportunity to be part of building a new program at Texas A&M-Commerce, an NCAA Division II school, came along.

She didn’t move far. Commerce is about 45 miles northeast of Dallas. But in terms of advancing in the sport she loves – her long-term goal is to coach in the Pac-12 – it was a major step.

The past three months, DeLong has logged nearly 11,000 air miles to recruit. She landed in Pasco for a fall tournament where she stumbled upon Selena Rima of Gonzaga Prep.

Rima was pitching for her fall team. DeLong invited her to take a trip to Commerce and she was offered a scholarship. Rima signed a letter of intent last week.

“It’s all about believing in yourself and the person you are,” DeLong, a 2007 CdA grad, said. “Young girls these days have a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and seeing their potential.”

DeLong was dead set on using a major in journalism as a vehicle to a career in sports broadcasting. But that changed when she got a taste of coaching as a player-coach for a professional team in The Netherlands.

“I learned through that experience that I wanted to coach,” DeLong said. “That experience overseas was life-changing.”

It all had its roots, though, when DeLong started playing softball as early as t-ball and followed it through to the developmental stages in fastpitch in middle school.

Stangel said that, unfortunately, girls have to get started much earlier in fastpitch because colleges are recruiting girls at a much earlier age than other sports.

“You have to start freakishly early – I’d say by at least by 12 and probably as early as 10,” Stangel said in a phone interview. “Girls are getting scholarship offers in eighth grade now. Here at Missouri our 2014 recruiting class is set, the 2015 class is set and we might need one more in 2016. And we already have 2018 and 2019 recruits are on the radar but haven’t committed.”

Stangel, a California transplant, firmly believes there are potential collegiate players in this region that have yet to be tapped.

“Vanessa and I are good examples of that,” Stangel said. “We worked very hard. You don’t have to be born and raised in California or some other warm climate. There’s no difference between girls here and any place else in the country. The question is do they want to dedicate themselves to it. It doesn’t matter where you’re from but what you’re doing.”

DeLong agreed.

“What are you willing to sacrifice to be the best is the question,” she said. “I just want girls around here to realize they’re just as capable as any other girls across the nation.”