Academy at the Lakes’ Alexis Kilfoyl is a softball prodigy, of sorts.
She’s been a varsity star since the seventh grade.
She was a freshman when she committed to the University of Alabama, which is perennially one of the nation’s top softball programs.
As a sophomore, she’s already one of the area’s top pitchers and hitters.
Now, she’s among elite company.
On Jan. 3, the 6-foot-1 ace was selected to join the 2017 USA Softball Junior Women’s National Training Team, along with just 23 other athletes nationwide.
Ten of the chosen athletes will be competing with their NCAA Division I universities, while 14 players will still be a part of their respective high schools prior to the summer team.
Of those qualifying, Kilfoyl is the youngest.
She made the team following a two-day selection process in Clearwater.
Using her signature drop-ball pitch, Kilfoyl said she felt “very confident” following tryouts, despite matching up against older peers.
“I definitely knew it wasn’t going to be just a cakewalk,” said Kilfoyl, who’s played softball since she was 8 years old. “But, what made me think I could make the team was I pitched strong…in all the late innings I pitched.”
In June and July, Kilfoyl and others will compete in a training camp and exhibition games in Oklahoma City at the World Cup of Softball XII. From there, the final roster for the 2017 USA Softball JWNT will be narrowed down to 17 players. The 17-player roster will then compete at the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Junior Women’s World Championship from July 24 to July 30 in Clearwater.
The summer experience will give Kilfoyl the opportunity to receive additional top-level coaching, from the likes of Oregon State head coach Laura Berg, Arizona State head coach Trisha Ford, University of Texas-Arlington head coach Kristie Fox and University of Kansas associate head coach John Rittman.
Furthermore, it’s all just another step in Kilfoyl’s dream of playing in the 2020 Olympics.
“That’s a very high projection,” she said, acknowledging the lofty target.
For Kilfoyl, however, the goal seems attainable.
Diane Stephenson, first-year coach at Academy at the Lakes, said the Junior Nationals should take Kilfoyl’s “mental game to a totally different level.”
“I think she’ll be even more dominant,” Stephenson said, “because of that experience of being around people that are all as good as her.
“So many times, when you’re an elite athlete, you don’t have the opportunity to be around and be challenged by other people.”
Perfecting the emotional and cerebral side of the game, Kilfoyl agreed, will be a major emphasis this season.
“We’re really going to try and focus on my mental game,” Kilfoyl said. “I feel like it will go really well with my physical (abilities).”
Meanwhile, Stephenson, who coached for two decades at Indiana University and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame last October, knows she has quite the difference maker in Kilfoyl, at the Academy.
“It’s really only the very elite, elite athletes that are making (college) commitments in ninth and even eighth grade,” Stephenson said, referring to Kilfoyl’s verbal commitment to Alabama.
“The best schools in the country are trying to solidify their roster as soon as they feel like someone is developed enough that they can make a difference in their program,” the coach said.
The new Academy coach also commended Kilfoyl’s personal pitching instructor, Kaci Clark Zerbe, who pitched on UCLA’s 1995 national title team.
“She’s been pretty instrumental in (Kilfoyl’s) development over the last two years…and helping to get where she is,” Stephenson said. “There’s a lot of very talented people, but if you don’t have great coaching, you don’t make something like the (Junior National) team.”
Meantime, Kilfoyl is looking to build off what was an eye-popping freshman campaign — both in the circle and at the plate.
Last season, Kilfoyl won 11 games, compiling a 1.36 ERA and striking out 163 batters in 103 innings.
“I just kind of have to get a feel for the hitters — where their strong spots are, where their weak spots are,” Kilfoyl said of her pitching strategy.
At the plate, Kilfoyl batted a team-leading .561, hitting three home runs, along with six doubles and 20 RBIs.
The Wildcats open the 2017 season with a preseason tournament — Springstead Invitational — on Feb. 9. Their first regular season game is at Carrollwood Day School on Feb. 16.
Practices began on Jan. 23.
Stats compiled using maxpreps.com.
Pitching: 11 wins, 1.36 ERA, 163 strikeouts in 103 innings
Hitting: .561 average, three home runs, six doubles, 20 RBIs
Pitching: 12 wins, 0.72 ERA, 111 strikeouts in 87.1 innings
Hitting: .458 average, four home runs, eight doubles, 25 RBIs
Pitching: 14 wins, 2.61 ERA, 118 strikeouts in 115.1 innings
Hitting: .309 average, four doubles, 12 RBIs
Published January 25, 2017