NCAA softball stars provide inspiration, guidance at Breakthrough Series

August 26th, 2022

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Jocelyn Alo stepped down into the royal-blue-colored dugout at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, glanced around at a discombobulated assortment of water bottles, gloves and wrappers, and gently chided the young softball players surrounding her.

“Hey, let’s be sure to pick up the trash,” Alo said. “This is a Hall of Fame stadium. Let’s keep it that way.”

Alo, NCAA softball’s all-time home run leader, is taking her coaching role at the Breakthrough Series seriously. The words of Patty Gasso, Alo’s former coach at Oklahoma, came to Alo’s mind.

“How you do anything is how you do everything,” Alo said. “So if you're going to leave trash in here, you're going to boot a ball out there. Softball and life, it's weird how you learn life lessons through softball.”

Forty-two high school players were invited to Oklahoma City to participate in the Breakthrough Series. The series is a three-day joint effort between Major League Baseball and USA Softball to provide players who may not have the ability to play high-level travel softball with an all-expenses-paid camp.

Players receive on-field instruction from the biggest names in softball.

Alo and former Oklahoma stars Lauren Chamberlain, Amber Flores and Destinee Martinez are some of the coaches working the event. Others coaching: Natasha Watley, a two-time Olympic medalist; Bella Norton, a senior catcher at Indiana; and Michelle Moultrie, a 2020 Olympic medalist.

Jennie Finch, an Olympic gold medalist, flew in from Williamsport, Pa., to coach the pitchers and catchers on the field where she won the 2001 NCAA softball championship pitching for Arizona.

“This is an all-star staff, and I really want these girls to just take full advantage of this staff while you have it because you'll never get a chance to talk to Olympians again,” Alo said. “You'll never get a chance to talk to Lauren or Destinee, ,who played in big situations. I'm pretty sure everyone here is pretty much a national champion.”

When they aren’t on the field developing their game, players participate in seminars that the coaches lead. They discuss broad topics such as recruitment and also delve into specifics such as how to send college coaches a highlight reel or the best places to research financial aid options.

“It’s kind of crazy because you’re going to be hearing the words of some of the biggest people in softball,” said Giovanca Frias, a class of 2024 pitcher from Irving, Texas. “And it’s crazy that they are the ones here coaching us and helping us get better.”

Alo is Frias’ favorite softball player. Frias watched Alo power Oklahoma to the 2022 College World Series championship, and said the experience at camp is a little surreal.

“Seeing her in front of me, it has been kind of wild,” Frias said. “There is someone big right in front of me. It’s crazy that we’re sharing the same field.”

Alo said the camp is sort of a reunion for her. She knows Chamberlain and the other former OU players. Finch coached Alo when Alo played in an All-American game her senior year of high school.

David James, Vice President Baseball & Softball Development Major League Baseball, said Chamberlain, Finch and Watley worked their connections to assemble the stellar coaching staff.

“I think that it goes to show [the coaches’] love of the game and that they want to give back,” James said.

On Friday, players practiced for five hours between seminars and a lunch break. Ana Gonzalez, a class of 2024 second baseman, enjoyed the seminars; especially when coaches told behind-the-scenes stories from their careers.

“You relate to [the coaches] a lot because they have been in your shoes and you have been wanting to get to the place that they are at,” Gonzalez said.

Alo, a member of the 2022 USA Softball Women’s National Team, is thankful to be in a position to inspire.

“It’s nice knowing that I inspire someone, but it also makes me want to step up my game as well,” Alo said. “What more can I inspire them to do besides softball? Maybe I can inspire them to just be a good person or do stuff not even softball related.”