By Ethan Roy
Of the countless athletes around the world that have participated in Little League Baseball® and Little League Softball®, only a select group can say that they won the last Little League game they ever played.
The 2008 Pusch Ridge Little League Softball team of Oro Valley, Arizona, are members of that select group.
“We know how good we are,” manager Rob Wenzel told his team. “We’re gonna win the whole thing.”
The softball culture in Arizona gravitated around the imbalance between Little League and Club, where many budding stars would leave Little League for the allure of the dream, or of the money, that club sports were thought to help materialize. In 2008, Arizona’s Junior League Softball conjured a dream more glorious than anything any club could have.
On August 16, Pusch Ridge LL defeated the Latin America Region champion, 10-4, to win the Junior League Softball Championship, becoming just the second team from Arizona to ever do so.
The success of that championship team dated back several years. In fact, the core members of the team did not lose a regular season game in three years and made it all the way to the West Region Tournament in 2007.
Mr. Wenzel made it clear that losing in the 2007 West Regional was just as impactful as winning in 2008. “Everyone wants the success,” said Mr. Wenzel. “In order to get there, it requires work.”
Between falling short in 2007 and going the distance in 2008, the girls’ experience of success and failure imparted significant life lessons that transcended the diamond.
“In life itself, you have goals and ambitions,” said Mr. Wenzel. “No matter what you do, there’s a lot of reward in the grind. They realized nothing was going to be handed to them.”
From Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to Alpenrose Stadium in Portland, Oregon, or one of the other division’s championship venues, that Championship Game represents the final level for the thousands of Little Leaguers® worldwide. In 2008, it was Everest Park in Kirkland, Washington, for Pusch Ridge LL. But it wasn’t the final level. Instead, it was just the beginning.
Seven of the girls went on to play softball at the collegiate level, and several more ventured into a different collegiate sport.
Makayla McAdams was a pitcher and first baseman for Pusch Ridge LL and went on to pitch at New Mexico State. In 2019, the pitcher is entering her senior year with the Aggies. She earned a selection to the All-Western Athletic Conference Second Team her sophomore year after leading the team in wins (11) and opposing batting average (.265).
Kayla Bonstrom, a pitcher and center fielder for Pusch Ridge LL, went on to play at Stanford and has thrived with The Cardinal. She won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and earned one of her two selections to the All-Conference First Team during her rookie season. Ms. Bonstrom landed on the conference’s All-Academic Team in three of her four seasons and was selected to the Second-Team All-America in 2015.
Micha Wenzel, daughter of coach Rob Wenzel, went on to play soccer at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. A mere five-minute drive separated Everest Park from the next level in her athletic career.
The Little League experience taught Micha to stay focused on whatever was next on the schedule. Whether it was a practice or a game, it didn’t matter.
“Every practice lead to every game,” said Ms. Wenzel. “The standard of play was always the same.”
As Micha shared, learning focus and life balance carried over into her collegiate soccer career, and beyond. Camaraderie and competitive mindsets meshed for her. And like many other former players, Little League represents far more than the fun of playing with friends.
The 2008 Pusch Ridge Little League Softball Team excelled. In doing so, they showcased that Little League transcends the physical element by imparting values that can be applied on and off the field and remain with them well beyond their adolescence.