Morgan Luster

Plano West senior Morgan Luster will take part in this week’s USA Softball GOLD National Championships in Plano.

Beginning today, the USA Softball GOLD National Championship will come to Plano for the second year in a row, as the city will play host to one of the country’s premier travel softball competitions.

The tournament will take place over the course of six days, wrapping up with championship bouts Saturday evening. Broken up into 16-year-old and 18-year-old divisions, more than 70 teams across the two groupings have qualified to vie for gold at Plano’s Heritage Yards.

Local squads participating include the EXCEL Elite Gold 18U team, featuring Plano Senior junior Darby Hickey and alum Cora Hickey and Flower Mound Marcus alum Haley Herzig and juniors Emma Adair and Abigail Kubin, and EXCEL’s Elite Williams team (Lovejoy senior Leah Taylor and alum Rebecca Holiman, McKinney Boyd senior Anissa Lechner, and Coppell alum Nora Rodriguez). Also in attendance is the Texas Bombers DFW Gold group, which boasts Argyle alum Ainsley Cindric, Lovejoy alum Celeste Soliz, Plano East alum Ashley Simmons and Plano West senior Morgan Luster.

Texas Fusion’s 18U Gold team (Lake Dallas senior Aubrey Meyers and McKinney Boyd alum Jordan Salmon) will also take part, as will 18U’s Texas Blaze Snodgrass (Celina senior Alexis Ginegaw, Coppell senior Chloe Barker and Lewisville senior Mia Gutierrez).

Rounding out the 18U bracket are Texas Glory ’02 (Frisco Wakeland senior Ashton Bryce and Frisco senior Kylie Green) and American Freedom’s Gold Bryson squad (Frisco Lone Star senior Grace Holz and Mesquite senior Madi Hayes).

In 16U, the DFW Firecrackers 16U Smith squad, featuring Mesquite sophomore Jazelle Hernandez, and the Firecrackers’ 16U Gold team, featuring Coppell junior Emily Broome, will suit up, as will Texas Fusion’s Gold 16U team (Coppell sophomore Adrianna Erichsen and McKinney North junior Caroline Leos).

For a high-profile tournament that often lands in more typical parts of the country for travel softball – think Florida, California or even Oklahoma City, where soon-to-be-completed renovations to the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex could bring the event back there for future years – tournament director and Plano Recreation Services Superintendent Gregg Gagnon said the chance for local players to defend the Metroplex is a welcome one.

“[Texas Glory ‘02] kept on going to qualifiers until they qualified for this for just that reason. … It’s something to try to defend your home turf with the best teams in the country,” Gagnon said. “They definitely take pride in that.”

Last summer, Plano offered USA Softball a unique opportunity to contest both the 16U and 18U tournaments at the same location for the first time in the event’s history. In getting the event back in Plano for a second straight year, Gagnon and Plano Director of Sports Tourism Cissy Aberg said ease of lodging, testimony from 2018 attendees and the professional nature of both the city’s facilities at Heritage Yards and event staff played a significant role.

“In my experience, Plano has a much more professional athletics staff than other cities. A lot of the cities around us will have a tournament weekend and almost give them the keys and leave,” Aberg said. “We don’t do that. If we don’t know we can do a first-class job, we don’t accept it. Everybody has a lot of pride in their work.”

Admission for spectators is free, and USA Softball estimates that 20,000 people will attend the tournament between players, spectators and fans. That number, though, isn’t responsible for the majority of the expected economic boon for the city – instead, Aberg said Plano’s projected $4.1 million in revenue will largely come from occupancy in local hotels.

The pool-play schedule and updated results can be found online by visiting usasoftball.com and navigating to the GOLD National Championship banner. According to Gagnon, schedules have been built to incorporate longer-than-usual breaks in the face of the Texas heat, a factor that he felt came into play during last year’s event.

“[We want to] give the teams a fair shot, especially the teams that are coming from out of state that aren’t used to this heat. … Traditionally, you play five games back-to-back if you want to come all the way through that losers’ bracket,” he said. “In that heat, there wasn’t a team out there [last year] that could have played in that.”

Other changes from year one to year two in Plano include additional streaming options on the championship field and more giveaways and amenities, according to Gagnon. Scouts for USA Softball’s national team program will also be in attendance.

Following an opening pool party tonight, play will begin at 8 a.m. Monday and continue into Wednesday, when double-elimination bracket play will begin leading up to Saturday’s final contests.

For continued coverage of the local sports scene, follow @TaylorRaglin on Twitter.

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