Softball: Virginia-based Vienna Stars continue to blossom

There are but a couple of girls on the Vienna Stars Gold 18U softball team that have yet to give the go-ahead to a college to prepare for them being on the diamond in the future.

That doesn’t mean the stories are the same for the ones that have committed, however.

Whitney Burks’ tale is vastly different. As she made another trip to Boulder for the Louisville Slugger Independence Day Tournament, this time she had the luxury of knowing her journey is almost done. Palo Alto, Calif., and Stanford University are a dream becoming reality as she enters her senior season at South County (Va.) High School.

Of course, when talking about Stanford, academics are the substantial element of admission. So, with a 4.3 grade point average and a laundry list of advanced placement and honors courses on her recruiting report, she has established a necessary foundation.

The hope is to play softball there, too.

The versatility in the classroom should get her in Cardinal red, a place she’s dreamed of for years, but her deftness on the field as an infielder, outfielder and catcher would probably get her anywhere else she wants.

“Since 8th grade, she’s been on the top of the recruiting board for all the big schools, and she’s a bright kid who had many offers that she’s had to forego. She’s turned down many offers on the hopes of fulfilling the requirement for Stanford,” said Stars coach Tony Rollins, the longtime leader of the Northern Virginia-based travel team that has become a staple of the Independence Day invitational. “She can play anywhere on the field. And with the catching, that’s a big plus for her.

“With her, because she is a rising senior … she’s in a good place.”

On Thursday at the Stazio Ballfields, Burks showed just a little bit of what she can do. Against the California Pure Fastpitch team (Huntington Beach, Calif.), Burks smashed a two-run home run in her first at-bat of the day, then later walked, added a stolen base and scored another run in her team’s 6-3 win. The Stars played again later Thursday night, but their early win put them at 3-0 in pool play.

She also played both third base and shortstop, and despite having a plan in mind that is so near completion, she said it is important to continue and build on her game to keep options open.

“Even if stuff falls through, there are opportunities, and I have faith in my abilities and my coaches, my parents, and making sure that I get somewhere that’s a fit,” Burks said. “But I’m really hoping to go there.

“This is one of the bigger tournaments, along with nationals, but it’s just a way to get better every day. When you are playing the best, it’s a way for you to hone your skills and make sure you get better every year.”

The Stars boast seven recent high school graduates who are going to play college ball somewhere. In Burks’ class, the Stars also have a National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American in Jessica Cummings, who went 22-0 and did not allow an earned run during her junior year at Northern (Md.) High School — she’s already verbally committed to North Carolina.

Ashton Wince, who graduated from Paul VI Catholic High School in Manassas, Va., is another veteran of the Boulder tournament. Committed to the University of Massachusetts, she said she understands what kind of weight a showcase like this holds.

“This is smack-dab in the middle of the country and you get schools from everywhere to come here,” Wince, another Stars vet, said. “They know the best of the best come out here so … these younger girls getting here, it’s all you can ask for is to play at this kind of level.”

The Stars’ youngest responded to the pressure on Thursday. The only to-be sophomore on the team, Bella Norton, crushed a home run for the second consecutive day as part of their win against California Pure.

Rollins is confident the stories of success will continue to multiply, and that the Boulder IDT continues to be a must-attend event.

“Kids are getting recruited earlier and earlier, and they are verbally committing earlier and earlier. This is a big tournament for us and we are hoping to get our 16’s out here, too,” he said. “All these kids who have made their verbals, those coaches are here, too, sitting in on them and seeing how they compete against the same kids they’re going to see at the next level.”

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