Coaches benefit from Breakthrough Series

October 16th, 2021

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Two-time Olympic medalist Jennie Finch wasn’t at camp when Day 1 of the Breakthrough Series for softball opened Friday at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex, but the former standout pitcher can see the difference the camp makes in developing young players.

Finch, who led Team USA to gold in 2004 in Athens and silver in 2008 in Beijing, has worked with a few of the 38 players in multiple camps and said the improvement in skill is noticeable.

“The most exciting part of this is that every year [the talent] becomes that much stronger and the athletes are that much further ahead,” said Finch, who arrived at the JRTC during lunch and was a key part of the afternoon session.

“Just to be able to see their progression from past camps is absolutely noticeable.”

Finch added that getting to know professional softball players or ones who had played in the Olympics wasn’t part of her youth growing up, but the California native said camps like these afforded youngsters the opportunity to get to be around accomplished athletes.

“Absolutely not,” replied Finch, 41, when asked if she had the opportunity of such camps when she was coming up. “It’s great to be able to get one on one with these athletes and be able to open up your mind and heart and share not only on-the-field stuff but off-the-field stuff.

“[Softball] is a grind. So when you have a moment like this, it makes all the hard work and sacrifice worth it.”

Finch, who starred at the University of Arizona and is part of almost every top 10 pitching category in the Wildcats’ record book, said she idolized pitcher Lisa Fernandez.

“I would go to the park and watch her pitching workouts, and you could hear the ball move,” Finch said. “I don’t even know how, but somehow I ended up at her house and saw her first Honda Sports Award and that was for the national player of the year [in softball].

“And later I saw Dot Richardson’s name on a bat, but that was it. That was our niche in softball, but now there’s a whole platform for female athletics and softball is right there.”


Former UCLA shortstop Natasha Watley, who played with Finch on the 2004 and 2008 Olympic teams, said she was impressed by the youngsters she worked with in the morning.

“I’ve seen passion,” Watley said. “They’re just like little sponges. They just want to hear and learn anything. They’re really receptive, which is great. As coaches, you feed off of that.”


Odicci Alexander, who was dominant in leading James Madison University to the Women’s College World Series in 2021, debuted as an instructor at the camp, but even she succumbed to a bit of hero worship among some of the heavy hitters of the sport.

“It goes deep, I’m honestly fangirling. I’m here with these legends,” said the 23-year-old Alexander, who went 61-12 in her four years pitching at James Madison University. “Lauren Chamberlain, she’s one of my favorites, and Jennie -- all of them. I’m happy to learn from them and grow from them.”

Best advice

Howard University softball coach Tori Tyson has a pair of strong recommendations for the 38 players in camp: Don’t leave any question unasked and use the tools at hand.

“Number one, ask questions, that was a big thing for me growing because I didn’t ask questions. You’ve got to be willing to ask questions,” said Tyson, who played at the University of Nebraska.

“We use softball as the tool, but we’re building the whole woman. For me, that’s something that’s so important. A lot of the tools I gathered growing up in this sport have helped me be the woman I am, the mother I am, the leader I am.”

She said it

“This is probably one of the top three coolest things I’ve ever done. I’m from southern California, I’m Mexican and that automatically makes you a Dodgers fan.” -- Amber Flores, coach at Seminole State College and former University of Oklahoma star, on instructing at the site that was formerly the Spring Training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers