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Can-Am adds softball options

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After completing her college career as a shortstop for Syracuse University in the spring, Morgan Nandin is just happy to be able to continue playing softball at a high level.

She and several other recent college and high school graduates, as well as current college players, are among those participating in what’s become a summer tradition in the north country — the Can-Am Softball Shootout — which draws teams from across the state as well as Canada.

The fast-pitch event, which continues to grow every year, now includes a new competition — players under the age of 23 who are older than 18 — one which tournament organizers hope will take root as a class of its own.

“This is definitely really cool because a couple of us on the team just graduated from college and it’s kind of depressing not being able to play any more at a competitive level like this,” said Nandin, who plays for the Battery Lightning Gold team based in the Rochester area. “So this is a good opportunity for us to dust off the cobwebs a little bit, come out here and play the sport we love.”

In what is becoming a trend around the state, more and more softball leagues are fielding under-23 teams and the Can-Am tournament is the latest to include this age group, also known as an open class.

Some six teams in this new category are competing in the event which began Saturday at Jefferson Community College and concludes today with a single-elimination tournament. It’s part of the larger tournament that includes five other age divisions scatterered throughout north country sites.

“As a team this is the only one (tournament) this group has been in,” Hazen’s Classics Powder Blue coach Ed Mahar said. “We pretty much assembled this group to compete here.”

Many of the squads feature a blend of young and older players — as some have just completed high school, while others are in college or are recent graduates.

“We have a mix, we have some girls who just graduated college, some in college and some who just graduated high school,” Tonawanda Storm coach Jay Hall said. “We had a pretty good 18-and-under team and now they’re old enough, so we moved them up and formed this team.”

“It’s definitely a good opportunity for the girls going into college to play against girls who have been there,” said Nandin, who recently graduated from Syracuse. “They can ask questions and experience the speed — because it’s a lot different than high school. So it’s a good preview of what they can expect when they go on to college.”

Tori Poplaski is a member of the Battery Lightning Gold’s under-18 team, but chose to play with the Hazen’s Classics Powder Blue squad this tournament and faced the Battery Lightning Gold team Saturday.

“Most of us play in a Thursday night league together and we signed up for this team,” said Poplaski, a recent graduate of Waterloo High School. “I really like it because I play 18-and-under normally in the summer, but this last game we were playing against players from Syracuse University, so that’s pretty cool.”

While Poplaski is headed to college at the University of Rochester, Nandin is adjusting to life after collegiate softball.

“We don’t really have that next level, like baseball — they have a lot of opportunities,” said Nandin, a North Syracuse native whose father Robert played as an infielder for the Syracuse Chiefs. “We only have professional softball and we only have four or five teams and not a lot of people know about them. It’s just good to keep playing.”

The Tonawanda Storm’s under-23 team is comprised of mainly players from Western New York. The Can-Am event is one of five “open” tournaments on the team’s schedule.

“There’s not that many around, we really have to look to find them,” Hall said. “But this level is growing.”

Overall, the Cam-Am Softball Shootout has grown to 80 teams this year.

“We’ll definitely make this one an annual event,” Battery Lightning Gold coach Todd Locey said. “And it’s going to help because I understand they’re going to open it up to an open tournament next year, so they’ll get some of the older group teams to come out.”


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