EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE Fla. --
The U.S. Air Force Softball Team wrapped up two weeks of practice here last week in preparation for the Armed Forces Softball Tournament at Naval Air Station Pensacola Aug. 13-17.
They will battle the other services teams three times each over five days in round-robin competition. The top two teams will receive gold and silver medals.
The Air Force team last won the tournament in 2011. Matt Norris, head coach for the third straight year, said he believes this year’s team has the potential to snap the eight-year drought and reclaim the title.
Air Force softball players from around the world arrived here Aug. 25. The roster began with 26 players and was trimmed to 15 by tournament time.
“They went straight into the grinder to get to this stage,” Norris said.
Norris and his staff chose players best fit for their field positions, evaluating each player’s versatility, athleticism and the ability to make plays.
“Other things we looked for were heart, character and pride,” he said. “There is a lot of pride attached to representing the U.S. Air Force Softball Team.”
Eight veteran players returned and seven rookies made the team, after a week of trials and a week of one to two-a-day practices. The practices consisted of infield and outfield drills and playmaking repetitions.
“This year’s team is one of the most athletic we’ve had in a long time,” he said. “The chemistry among the players was there from the start. That was important in order for them to be successful. These guys are playing the game they love, and it shows in their enthusiasm and hustle.”
Norris said the team’s quick grasp of his staff’s coaching fundamentals was also key in the practices. One example he gave was unspoken communication.
“When I make a hand gesture from the sideline, the players execute some form of movement to get into the right position,” he said. “We worked with them, so they could understand what we’re communicating.”
Todd Duncan, 96th Test Wing, is the oldest returning player at 38. It’s his first year back since 2010.
“It’s amazing to be here,” said Duncan, a former baseball player, who transitioned to softball after college.
“Permanent change of station moves and deployments prevented me from trying out for the last eight years,” he said. “It’s awesome to represent the Air Force in softball again. I’m here to do whatever it takes to help this team win gold.”
This is Chris Flores’ first year on the team. The 26-year-old rookie was cut in tryouts last year, but was determined to make this year’s team.
“I don’t take defeat very well,” said Flores, stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. “Making the team was my number one goal ever since I started playing softball three years ago. After I was cut, I went home, worked harder and was lucky enough to make the team this year.”
Flores said he’s not settling for anything less than gold.
“Whatever it takes, no matter how it happens, I want to help bring the gold medal back to the Air Force,” he said.
The winning team moves on to the Bravo Nationals Softball Tournament in Prairie Lake, Minnesota Aug. 22-26.