Ashleigh Murphy admitted she cried. Terrena Martin said it was sad and hard to cope with.
They didn’t get dumped. Their favorite TV shows weren’t canceled. Their puppies didn’t die.
Their softball team disbanded.
For six years, Pretty Vicious has provided young Pahrump athletes the opportunity to play softball at a high level. Coach Rich Lauver described the ride as “300 games, 30,000 miles and 30 different players.”
“We had nine when we disbanded, and that’s the least we ever had,” Lauver said. “Two falls ago, as many as 20 Pahrump kids were playing on travel-ball teams, some for us, some for others. I would argue that in all of Nevada 3A, the rest of the teams, only had 20.”
Lauver knows a few things about high school sports. He has been a coach and athletic director at Pahrump Valley High School, where, to hear him tell it, he has made significant contributions and a few waves. But there’s no denying his knowledge of the game. Lauver coached the Trojans to their only softball state championships in 2003, 2004 and 2005, not that the feat impresses him from a coaching standpoint.
“If you coach for 20 years, raw numbers tell you that you should win at least one state championship because there’s only 18 schools or whatever,” Lauver said. (The number changes every couple of years because of realignment.) “Mathematically, with 14 or 15 sports in a school, you should win one every year in something because you’re not one of the schools that wins nothing in anything.”
Lauver said the first year Pretty Vicious competed in the under-12 division, there were 25 players. Murphy and Martin were two of the early ones.
“I started playing with them when I was around 11,” Murphy said. “My fifth-grade year I was in Cassondra Lauver’s class, and their daughter Skyler gave me a flyer. My first year I was a first baseman. I was not very good at infield. Outfield is my home turf.”
“I was probably 11,” Martin said. “When I first started I had no idea what softball was. I just wanted to start playing. He had me at second base, then I was at first base, then I found out outfield was more my position. Ever since then, I’ve been in the outfield.”
Naturally, Murphy and Martin, who are both going into their junior year at Pahrump Valley High School, joined the softball team when they got there. They noticed right away the competition level was very different. In the Class 3A Sunset League in which the Trojans currently compete, not many teams can hope to compete with the Trojans. And none of them can pitch to them.
Murphy noted that not only does the quality of competition not help you get better, it can have the opposite effect.
“My swing path was a wreck at the end of high school season,” she recalled. “I couldn’t hit. Rich helped me get it back on track, but you go down in your skill-set level. You don’t get better, but in some situations you actually get worse.”
“Honestly, no one in league,” Murphy said when asked about opposing pitchers good enough to be on travel teams. “The games we played against the 4As, there was one pitcher we could see in a showcase setting. When we got to state, the northern aces were all pretty good.”
“I would say not many,” agreed Martin. “A couple of the outstanding ones from the higher-level softball teams like Boulder City. It’s a lot higher quality (in travel ball), and I feel like it makes me better as a player. You see good players and you want to be like them.”
A Pretty Vicious template
To that end, Lauver had a model for Pretty Vicious.
“There’s a Little Rebels fast-pitch team in Vegas,” he said. “They get the best Vegas players, and they are geared toward Division I athletes. There’s a picture of them. They had eight seniors sitting there with the college mascots in front of them, and they’re all sitting there signing. It was not at the high school because they know school is not really what got them there. It was their club team, and it was all of them sitting there signing their letters of intent together. And I’m like, this is what we could become.
“In fact, the Little Rebels team that is of our age, we’re competing with right now, proving that we can compete. … I guarantee a college coach is not going to ask you how you did against Sunrise Mountain.”
What worries some is that picking one sport to focus on too early could prevent young athletes from discovering what other sports they might enjoy. Lauver agrees, to a point, and cites his own experience at Pahrump Valley High School.
“Specialization too early is awful, but specialization too late will destroy opportunity,” he argues. “I was harassed to play football, but I said, ‘No, I’m going to Vegas to play baseball.’ I played basketball and baseball, then straight to more baseball because I recognized that’s where I had a shot. I did exactly what all of the Vegas kids were doing, and then I got a chance to go play college baseball.
“I’m a 5-foot-8 center fielder dude in a town that plays Tonopah and Needles,” said Lauver, a 1993 graduate. “Do you think I’m going to get good enough to be a college athlete just by graduating? No. I have to go find bigger and better and tougher competition.”
Getting players noticed
And there’s the rub. While in a sport such as football recruiting is done largely through the high schools, in other sports the schools play a secondary role, if even that. Two of the four Pahrump Valley athletes that signed letters of intent at a ceremony in February at the school play club soccer on Las Vegas teams, and softball operates in a similar way, said Lauver.
“At showcases, there are dozens of coaches, and information on every player is readily available to them,” he said. “Every kid is seen by at least 40 coaches. There was a showcase in Las Vegas three weeks ago with 72 college coaches there.
“The only (Pahrump) kids I know of who have ever experienced that setting are our kids. You’re not going to play at a high level unless you’re playing travel ball and you’re playing showcase tournaments by your junior and senior year.”
Lauver points to his daughter, Skyler, as an example.
“For kids like my daughter, who are not exceptional speed-wise, not exceptional size-wise, they can only become exceptional by knowledge of the game, by outplaying people in the game,” he said. “She wouldn’t make that decision until this year, her junior year. I don’t think you have to do that early.”
The unexceptional speed-wise, unexceptional size-wise Skyler Lauver, who was once the only girl cut after tryouts for an all-star team, was named first-team all-state in Class 3A by the coaches this past spring.
It’s not that players on club teams can’t also participate in high school sports, it’s just that it requires a bit of accommodation, which is not always forthcoming. But this past spring, for example, Sydney Dennis and Kathy Niles played on club soccer teams in Las Vegas which were good enough to win the state championship in their age groups and play in the regionals in Hawaii.
Yet, Niles was also the starting center fielder on the Trojans softball team that reached the state tournament, while Dennis finished fifth in the 800 meters, seventh in the 3,200 and fourth as part of the 4 x 800 relay at the Class 3A state championships with the track and field team.
Pretty Vicious players have been key contributors to many Pahrump Valley High School teams. Back at the beginning, they were allowed to use high school facilities for workouts when they were eighth-graders.
“We were kicked off because they said, ‘You’re trying to create single-sport athletes, none of them are even going to play in high school anyway.’ So they kicked us off, and guess what ended up happening? Of the 12 kids that were there, 11 of them played multiple sports as a freshman, and by the end of their sophomore year, those 12 girls had 34 varsity letters.”
For her part, Murphy played volleyball in middle school but said she felt she wasn’t good enough to go far in that. Martin, on the other hand, played basketball in fifth grade, played some volleyball and tried track. But she said the first time she tried softball, she was hooked.
“I was best friends with a girl in elementary school who was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you try softball,’ ” Martin recalled. “It did come easily. Some people didn’t believe it was my first year.”
For others, it took a little longer. Lauver remembers how rough things were at the start.
Learning the landscape
“When they were in U10s, my daughter was on the team, and they lost every single game to every single Vegas team,” he said. “Their only wins were against the other Pahrump teams, so we’re not going to even build an all-star team.”
But they did develop one thing back then: passion for the game.
“One of my assistant coaches started with them when they were 10,” Lauver said. “Shane Rily walked into U10s, and he coached my daughter and a lot of our players. He got them excited about the game. That was the starting point.”
When they were U12s, Lauver said Pretty Vicious fielded two teams, one at the B level and one at the C level. The C team won its postseason tournament, and the B team reached the semifinals. The following year, they competed only in B, and last fall they transitioned to A ball.
“As we got older, we started being recognized for all the work we had put in and the competition improved.” Murphy said. “At the beginning, it’s always been kind of like a thing that Pahrump has to strive to prove them wrong and prove we can compete. This last tournament that we went to, my third year we tried to go there and they said they couldn’t have us because we weren’t ready for that level of competition.”
Let Lauver tell how things went.
“We go to Incline this past weekend,” he began. “It’s a U16 tournament, but because there’s an odd numbers of teams, we run up against a U18 team that has seven kids already committed and signed.
“So their fourth hitter comes up. We have our portable fence at 200 feet, but it’s a slo-pitch field. She one-hops a ball off the slo-pitch fence, 310 feet. Their coach goes, ‘Oh, she’s signed. She’s a Sac State kid.’ She ends up hitting two home runs, another girl hits two home runs and we end up losing 6-4. We get one of those kids to pop up and we get a clutch hit, and all of a sudden it’s, ‘We beat a team with seven college players on it.’ “
Pretty Vicious bounced back and rolled to 15-0, 17-2, 9-2 and 8-3 wins to reach the championship. They were one out away from winning twice before losing in extra innings.
“The only thing I’m thinking when there’s two outs in each of those last two innings is what an awesome end to us,” Lauver said. “We know we’re done, we know we’re down to nine and a couple of them are playing other fall sports and can’t commit to this.”
“I cried at the last tournament,” Murphy admitted. “This has been such a big part of my life for six years. It got me into doing something that’s good for my body and did so much for me mentally. It was so hard knowing I was on the field with them for the last time. They’re like family. It broke my heart.”
“I walked away with trophies, bruises, but most importantly memories that will last a lifetime,” Martin said.
While there was no storybook ending for Pretty Vicious, there remain plenty of stories.
“It was my 14U season,” Murphy remembered. “We were down and the next day we played six or seven games and we actually ended up winning that championship. It just showed how determined we were. Our bodies were done. I can speak for myself, my body was completely done. It was so hard, but mentally I was so into the game that nobody could stop us.”
Lauver said playing at a high level requires a lot of sacrifice, sometimes for an entire season.
“We played up in Shadow Rock, next to Sunrise Mountain High School, in Wednesday night doubleheaders,” he said. “We’d get out of school, pick them up in the van, drive through rush-hour traffic to get all the way out there and get home at 11 o’clock at night. We made a commitment and played the entire way through that league. Our final game was after Thanksgiving. We had a winning record, and that was our first season in A ball.”
The van is a 15-passenger van Rich and Cassondra Lauver bought a while back. The 30,000 miles figure comes from the van’s odometer, as the vehicle only was used for softball tournaments.
“We have played in Incline, Fallon, Fernley, Cedar City, Orem, St. George, Prescott three times, Kingman, Beaver and Vegas multiple times,” Lauver said. “We used to rent a 15-passenger van because parents can’t make a commitment to go every weekend. We were playing three weekends a month and usually we had to leave on Fridays to play on Saturdays. Sometimes we had to leave on Thursdays because some of the Utah stuff was only on Fridays and Saturdays.
“Sometimes we had a hard time because a lot of our stuff is at the same time as the NBA Summer League in Vegas, and they were renting the vans. So we ended up buying a 15-passenger van from Saitta-Trudeau, and we put 30,000 miles on it. Buying it also allowed us to play in that Wednesday weekday fall league.
But for the Ford Transit, like Pretty Vicious, its time has passed.
“Now it’s up for sale if anybody wants one,” Lauver said with a chuckle.
It wasn’t automatic that this was going to be the final season for Pretty Vicious. But attrition took its toll.
“We started the season with 12, two moved to Mexico, and one kid can only play part of the summer because she has to split time with her mom and dad, so we’re down to nine,” Lauver said. “We played our last two tournaments with nine, with one catcher, all from Pahrump. We’ve always said we’re a Pahrump team, we’re not going to pick up players from other places to try and keep fielding a team.
“First six games, we go 0-6. and it’s hell. We go back to basics, we work on some stuff, we go to our next tournament and go 3-3. Not too bad. We get to our last two tournaments down to nine players, we’re like, ‘What do you guys want to do? We’re down to nine players, one catcher.’ And the catcher says, ‘Play.’ “
The catcher, Deeanna Egan, the youngest player on the team, caught all 13 games over the last two weekend tournaments because Pretty Vicious had nobody on the bench, not even someone to use as a courtesy runner when Egan reached base.
That’s the kind of enthusiasm for the game and eagerness to compete Lauver can generate, but Murphy and Martin say there’s more.
“I think I’ve gotten better skill set-wise, but I learned a lot about how in life you get kicked down and it’s how you respond that determines if you’re a champion or not,” Murphy said. “I feel I’ve learned a lot more about the mental aspect, and how that will contribute to my life.
“Rich would show us motivational speakers and videos and read quotes by people who were successful. He taught us that, yeah, this is softball, we play to win now. But it’s having that mentally tough status that will help you in life. You have to be able to overcome from your failures, and the way you react determines success or failure. That’s always stuck with me.”
“I loved every minute that I spent with them, just being able to laugh and have fun,” Martin said. “It was truly an amazing experience. He was even willing to get a van for all of us to ride in case our parents couldn’t make it. His love for the game and his passion and the vibe that we got from being around him … We could always have a good laugh with him.”
Lauver is fond of repeating what has become almost a mantra: “I don’t want to be the best coach you’ve ever had, or your last coach.” The point is he sees his role as preparing them for the next level. But, the way things turned out, he won’t even be their last travel-ball coach.
“After we disbanded, I’ve had three calls from travel ball coaches in Las Vegas asking, ‘Is this kid available? Is this kid available?’ Lauver said. “Vegas has travel ball teams, good teams, that have players who have signed to play college ball, and they are saying Pretty Vicious doesn’t exist any more, we’re going to have a tryout in August or September and we’ll let you know when it is because we want your kids.”
And the players are eager for the opportunity, even if they have to commute to get it.
“I’m planning on playing with a Vegas team,” Murphy said. “I’m playing with Impact Gold this summer to see if I fit in with them before the fall. I want to get into showcases.”
“I’m going to try out for one coming up,” Martin said, also citing Impact Gold. “Sammy Riding plays for Impact Gold, and she just played the last tournament with us up in Incline Village.”
“Unless something weird happens, unless they can’t now find a team, which is a fear I have, or they can’t afford a team, legitimately six to eight kids right now could go on to play college ball,” Lauver said. “And that’s out of a group that did not have an all-star team because they couldn’t beat a single Vegas team at any level. That would have been their last year at U10s, and now they’re at U16s.”
And looking for new softball teams. Or maybe something else.
“We have always preached to our players that you need to find something to be passionate about and go get it and push yourself to the highest of levels,” Lauver said. “We now have nine players who know how to be a champion, know what it takes to be a champion, who are beasts. For us to try and keep just nine … would be unfair to them as individuals. We now need to let them go out and be able to play to their highest peak in whatever it is in life.
“We’re not about Pretty Vicious. We’re about individuals becoming as awesome as they can, and Pretty Vicious was the vehicle they rode to get to this point.”
Murphy seems to understand that notion very well.
“How he’s coached me is going to get me further,” she said. “I have so much respect for him. We’re all living proof of that because we listened to him and learned we can do great things.”
For Pretty Vicious, the game is over. They won.
Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter:@pvtimes