Team USA mentors for Breakthrough Series

Olympians Aubree Munro and Haylie McCleney among instructors for joint effort with MLB

October 15th, 2021

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Competitors in college and teammates internationally, catcher Aubree Munro and center fielder Haylie McCleney are together in a new role this week.

Fellow softball instructors.

The pair of Southeastern Conference standouts played for Team USA in Tokyo in the Summer Olympics, earning silver medals after dropping the gold medal game to Team Japan, 2-0.

Team USA defeated the host country, 2-1, in pool play, getting a walk-off solo home run by Kelsey Stewart -- Munro’s college teammate at the University of Florida.

Munro, 28, was strong behind the plate as usual, while the 27-year-old McCleney -- a four-time All-American at the University of Alabama -- topped Team USA with a .529 average with nine hits and four runs in six games.

But the pair realized the time is now to pass along their knowledge to the next crop of high school and eventually, college stars -- maybe future medal winners, too.

The SEC duo, along with gold medalist Natasha Watley and NCAA softball home run leader Lauren Chamberlain, was on-hand Friday as camp opened for 38 young softball players from around the country in the Breakthrough Series.

The camp, a joint effort by MLB and USA Softball, is a special development experience to prepare them for the next level of the sport.

The event, which is free for all attendees, is taking place at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex.

Through seminars, mentorship, game play and the highest level of instruction, the program focuses on developing players on and off the field.

A native of Brea, Calif., Munro started catching at age 6 when her mother -- the team’s coach -- encouraged her to play the position. The child immediately missed a pitch and was hit flush but was unfazed.

However, a strong relationship with the clay-laden area behind home plate quickly developed.

“I fell in love with the position -- the gear, being involved, being in every pitch. I spent the rest of that season learning about it,” said Munro. “I’m 28 and have been catching for 22 years.”

Munro backstopped a pair of Gator consecutive national championships in 2014 and 2015. In the latter season, she was successful in all 354 defensive chances behind the dish -- a perfect season. 

“The Breakthrough Series is awesome, because it’s a bunch of kids who’ve been identified as leaders or standouts in their areas,” said Munro, who spent the first part of the morning with the entire group, working on throwing mechanics. 

“We want to help them take their game to the next level. You see the raw talent. We want to make a difference.” 

Before the lunch break, Munro and her catchers were the last group still working -- her taking throws at second base, her backstops trying to impress their instructor with some laser-like throws to the bag.

“There’s a lot of dedication from the coaches,” said catcher Joy Wilde of Seattle, 13, who was part of Munro’s group. “They are all so interested and invested in getting you to the next level. 

“I look up to Aubree. I actually have a poster of her in my bedroom.” 

Unlike Munro, who desired to leave Pac 12 Conference and head east, McCleney was destined to play for her state’s most prominent university -- the Crimson Tide. 

Growing up in the town of Morris, Ala., and being instructed by her father, who played baseball at nearby Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., the left-handed McCleney received plenty of enthusiastic instruction.

McCleney and Munro agreed that competing in a powerful conference like the SEC helped them prepare for the Olympics. 

“The SEC girls had such an advantage. We pack out stadiums, left and right, every weekend, and people love softball in the south. It’s cool to be able to take our game to that fanbase and then be able to showcase the same thing all over the world,” McCleney said. 

The center fielder said her role as instructor goes back to what her father taught her. 

“My dad never gave me more than I could handle at any point of my career,” McCleney said. “Whatever his shortcoming was in baseball, he made it my strength. 

“We just have gone back and forth for years. The things [he and I] talk about are the things I’m sharing with these athletes.” 

Kansas City participant Malia Todd, a sophomore, was able to take pitching instruction from former James Madison star Odicci Alexander. 

“I’ve learned many new things,” said Todd, 16. “I’ve looked up to Lauren Chamberlain since I was like 10 years old. And Odicci is my favorite pitcher of all time. It was amazing watching her this year.”