WALLA WALLA — When softball players Teisha Payne, Lauren Hoe, Faith Hoe, Kamryn Coleman and Maddy Thomas joined the Northwest Xplosion in 2010, the Walla Walla players never thought they would play for a national championship.
The ‘Fabulous Five’ — as Payne refers to them — simply joined the 10-and-under team for their love of the game.
“Our very first year, it was an adventure,” Faith Hoe said. “We were a group of girls who really just wanted to play softball. I don’t think any of us thought we would get to where we are today with softball.”
Now, as a 14-and-under team, the Xplosion — with the original five still intact — have blossomed into one of the best softball teams on the West Coast.
The team’s success, however, starts with its five core members.
“It’s awesome because you get to know them and make memories,” Coleman said. “The first years weren’t so good because we didn’t have a good team, so it wasn’t a lot of fun. Then, as the years have gone on, it’s gotten better.”
Their camaraderie has also extended to the rest of the team along the way.
Take outfielder Emma Case for example.
Case, who is a year older than her teammates, is only eligible to play on the team every other year. But that hasn’t stopped her from bonding with her teammates.
“I’d say it’s the best experience I’ve had,” she said. “I’ve played for a couple teams and I’d say this is the best team I’ve been around. (We) really have a positive attitude and (we’re) constantly trying to be a better team. There’s a lot of good chemistry on the team and I think that’s what really helps everyone work together.”
The team’s rapport on and off the field has also translated into overwhelming success.
The team has only improved from its inaugural campaign.
In 2011, as a second-year 10-and-under team, the Xplosion finished 39-9-1, including a 35-5 mark against other 10U teams. The team also took second in both the National Softball Association and Amateur Softball Association state tournaments that season.
From there, the Xplosion moved into the 12-and-under distinction with largely the same roster. The team finished with a 49-20-1 record and finished third in the NSA state tournament and fourth in the ASA state tournament that year.
But 2013 was when the pieces all came together for the Xplosion.
After finishing with a 50-13 record, the team earned a spot in the 12-and-under ASA Western Nationals, which featured 44 teams from California, Oregon and Washington, in Medford, Ore., in late-July.
But after a lackluster finish at the state tournament, the team’s expectations for Western Regionals were restrained, to say the least.
“We were a little disappointed after the state finish we had,” coach Andy Coleman said. “We went to Western Nationals not knowing what to expect. (We) certainly wanted to play respectably, but our goal was to be around on the last day.”
“We didn’t play to our full potential in state,” Faith Hoe said. “That really hurt us. We just didn’t play to our caliber of play. It was really disappointing because we know how (well) one another can play.”
That was until the tournament got underway, and the Xplosion kept winning.
“We ended up running the table and winning 10 straight games over the week,” Andy Coleman said.
With a Western National championship, the Xplosion not only supplanted themselves as a premiere team on the West Coast, but also earned a spot in the ASA National Tournament, which will be played in San Diego on July 28.
“My mom actually started crying because she knows how hard it is to get to nationals,” Payne said. “It’s just crazy that we qualified. I think that sunk in after that last out.”
With more than a year to prepare for the national tournament, the team knows how precious every day is. With the goal of adding another trophy to their collection, the players have been hard-pressed to improve.
That starts with team practice, which is generally three to four times per week. Outside of practice, however, is where players are looking to gain a leg up on their competition.
“We’ve got kids that are dedicated to softball,” Andy Coleman said. “A lot of them have started agility training (and) weightlifting. That’s all on their own. We don’t have a prescribed program — no requirements.”
“I work probably four times a week on my hitting,” Payne said. “Then I also play here. It’s a lot of work getting prepared, but it’s worth it in the end.”
The team is off to another sizzling start (13-1-3, including two first-place finishes at tournaments), but both players and coaches have their eyes set on the tournament that caps the year.
“You want to be playing your best softball at the end of the season,” Andy Coleman said. “It’s a long season. You’re trying to pace yourself too and not run out of gas before the end of the season.”
But as long as the team keeps playing as a cohesive unit, it looks like the sky is the limit for the Northwest Xplosion.