Travel ball teams go the distances

Photo submitted Danielle Henning, left, Camille Conkright, Isabelle Henning and Hadley Phelps get together during a travel team softball game.

Abby Newman and her mom, Heather, were sitting in a Houston airport Friday afternoon on a layover for a flight to southern California.

Abby was on the way to the PGF national tournament in Huntington Beach, Calif. The Daviess County rising junior is with the Tennessee Fury platinum team that was led by former Louisville Male coach Josh Bloomer.

Male was this year's KHSAA state champion at 39-0, and was ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today. Bloomer left after that run and is now an assistant coach at Duke.

Abby Newman is related to another DC standout, Millie Roberts, who is also on a high-level travel squad. Roberts has committed to Auburn.

Several Owensboro-Daviess County area girls are on a Kentucky Chrome travel team.

There are travel teams across a number of sports, like basketball, soccer and volleyball.

But it seems the most notable travel teams in the spring and summer are for baseball and softball.

Travel ball has been a part of the sports lexicon for years, it seems like.

Travel teams can take players from a wide range of geographic areas, across state lines and regions even.

A softball travel team from this area, the FireFrogs, spent the week in a national tournament at Gulfport, Mississippi. That squad is coached by Owensboro Catholic coach Jeremy Phelps. Catholic has long had players active in travel ball, and former coach George Randolph was a big proponent of having his players get experience against major competition during the summer and fall.

Phelps was coaching a team with Camille Conkright on it, along with his daughter, Hadley Phelps.

Catholic's Hannah Carter plays for a team from northern Kentucky and it was in a tournament in Knoxville, Tennessee last week.

Isabella and Danielle Henning, also from Catholic, play together on a team that travels more extensively. That squad is called the Southern Force, it is out of central Kentucky and has players from Alabama, Mississippi and New Mexico.

Apollo's Brooke Brown is on a team that also travels extensively.

As Apollo coach Stephen Julian said, there are many more who play travel ball. The listing of players here is in no way all inclusive, but it shows how far reaching travel teams are.

"You're seeing Apollo kids, DC kids, they've definitely caught up with Catholic," said Dr. Glenn Henning, who is the dad to Isabella and Danielle. "It has made it more competitive in the 9th District."

Travel ball starts young, but those ages don't travel as far.

"We've probably been involved since Abby was 8 years old," Heather Newman said. "It was more local tournaments, a couple of weekends each month in the summer. Travel has become more year around now."

"This summer they've gone to Colorado, Mississippi, they're getting ready to go to Dallas," Glenn Henning said. "That's been the the same the last four summers. It's crazy, college recruiting is so crazy now, you spend all this time and money, but you feel like have to."

Upper level travel teams go to college showcase events, which puts players in front of an abundance of college coaches from across the nation.

The Henning sisters are going to Indiana State, and they had the aim of playing in college for a long time.

"They've probably known that since they were 10U, 12U," Glenn Henning said. "They've put a lot of time, sometimes we hit every day of the week, some Friday nights up they've been on the fields, they've been dedicated."

OHS baseball has several players on travel teams this summer, and certainly isn't the only team in the 3rd Region with that going on.

Braxton French, who will be a senior with the Red Devils, was an outfielder with the Indiana Spikes out of Evansville. He committed to the University of Southern Indiana and having a connection with the Spikes was a key in that decision.

"It helped me out playing with them," French said. "My coach (Brian Chestnut) played with them when they won the national championship in 2014."

USI was NCAA Division II national baseball champions that year.

Playing with that travel team definitely helped French get a path to play college baseball, and it also was big in lifting his skill level.

"It helps out a ton, you go to big tournaments and have scouts all around you, gets your name out there, then they come to watch you in high school," French said. "It's a lot different playing travel ball. You have competition one through nine, you see all kinds of college commits and good pitchers. I worked a lot on my power and velocity from the outfield."

Heather Newman and the others involved know there is a huge time commitment playing travel ball, but it is worth it, they all feel like.

"You have to love softball first," Heather said. "We're going to be open and see what happens this fall. We've had a lot of quality time together."

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