In the world of softball, Anne Arundel County has dominated since the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association began keeping records in 1976.
Since that time, Anne Arundel schools have won 31 state championships. Northeast leads the way with nine, Chesapeake has won seven and, overall, nine schools from the county have come away with the state trophy. The first Anne Arundel school to win a state title was Meade in 1978.
Seven Anne Arundel schools have won at least two championships. The most recent title for the county came when Severna Park took the Class 4A state crown last spring. It was the first time an Anne Arundel team had won a state title in eight years, though the county remained very competitive.
Falcons head coach Meredith McAlister is in her 11th year running the program, and Severna Park has won five county titles and one region crown during her tenure. McAlister played there while in high school, too.
In fact, McAlister played on the 1999 team that suffered a tough 1-0 loss to Gaithersburg (in eight innings) in the state final. McAlister said that while she was growing up, there was such a heavy interest in softball that girls from all over the county played with and against each other at high levels in travel ball, and that made them better during the season. It's a trend that continues today.
"When I was growing up, there was such a culture of individual coaches in Anne Arundel County," she said. "There were pitching coaches, hitting coaches, and we all knew each other. We all played together."
McAlister said it was remarkable how much softball the girls played in the high levels of travel. They made themselves better by competing throughout the summer.
"We were all kind of really pushing ourselves, playing five, six or seven games in a weekend," McAlister said. "My best friend pitched five games in a row one day."
Pete Waskiewicz was the softball coach at Mount de Sales, a Catonsville, Md., private school, for 23 years. He also coached travel softball and guided McAlister for eight years. He believes access to pitching coaches is just stronger in Anne Arundel than other places, giving softball players in Anne Arundel a leg up on the competition in a crucial aspect of the game.
"I feel like pitching down there is so much better," he said. "Everybody's dedicated to the team down there. Everybody's dedicated to winning. I just think you have a better area of coaches down there."
Even though no Anne Arundel school won a state title from 2011-2017, Waskiewicz said teams from the county were still knocking on the door. The breakthrough happened last spring when McAlister's Falcons crushed Northwest, 13-0, in a game that went just 4.5 innings.
Roger Simonds, a former baseball coach at Archbishop Spalding who is now a private hitting instructor, said all of the high-level travel teams in the county are sending girls to high school programs who have already played a lot of top-level softball. The good travel programs like Lake Shore and Wagner's basically form a feeder system to the high schools in the county, and it's one that keeps giving.
McAlister said there are now teams at the "A" or "Gold" level which travel up and down the East Coast and across the country. She estimates 11 of the 13 players on her roster last season played on "A" level teams and honed their skills that way.
Campbell Kline, one of the players who led Severna Park to the state title last spring and is headed to play at Maryland in the fall, plays for an "A" level team based in North Carolina. She travels to North Carolina once or twice a month to practice, and that squad competes in various cities in the United States.
"There was like a wave there [for a while] where Anne Arundel County was getting a lot of 'B' level and 'C' level players," McAlister said. "But you're going to need girls that have played 'A' level if you want [championships]."
The interest among girls in becoming high-level players seems to be coming back once again, she added.
"There was a disparity [during that seven-year time], and we weren't getting the kind of players we were used to," McAlister said. "We're getting girls to buy in again. They love it. They want to get better. They want to improve."
Simonds, whose daughter, Haley, played at Severna Park and now is on the Newberry College softball team, said what the girls learn early in the game at a young age forms the foundation for the way they grow as players. In Anne Arundel County, many girls already have basically mastered their craft, and it's why they can overpower opponents so often.
It's something that will likely continue.
"They just had an earlier understanding of what had to happen to move up the ladder," Simonds said. "It gave our kids in the Anne Arundel market such an advantage because of the ground-level things they were taught."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Severna Park Athletics
Issue 253: April 2019
Originally published April 15, 2019