BOGACZYK: Team USA Dream Becomes Reality for Zerkle
The Word on the Herd-Dec. 30, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - Morgan Zerkle has enjoyed a very impressive 2015. The Marshall softball center fielder batted a Conference USA- and school-record .506, kept swiping bases at a record pace, and was honored as an Academic All-American second team selection.
If that weren't enough, Zerkle's summer included the Golden Shoe Award, presented by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association to the best base stealer in Division I softball in 2015. Her 47 thefts led the nation.
And when the calendar flips to 2016 in a matter of hours, the Herd junior from nearby Milton will enjoy another challenge to an already stellar career.
On Saturday, Zerkle arrives in Irvine, Calif., as one of 37 players named to USA Softball Women's National Team Selection Camp. The camp, at Bill Barker Park, runs Sunday through Wednesday.
"I mean, you always dream something like this as a younger softball player," Zerkle said Tuesday, sitting in the Herd's softball complex aside Dot Hicks Field. "Like, how awesome it would that be to one day represent your country, and play at the highest level you can possibly go in softball.
"But I never really thought it would actually come down to me getting a chance to do that, or try out for the team."
But it became reality earlier this month, when Zerkle and Marshall Coach Shonda Stanton were notified of the player's selection. Zerkle is among 37 candidates who will compete for 17 roster spots on the 2016 National Team that will compete at the World Cup of Softball, the Japan Cup and the Women's World Championships.
"I was pretty shocked," the 20-year-old Zerkle said of her Team USA bid, "just because you don't hear from places like Marshall getting invited to something like this."
Of the 37 players headed to the Selection Camp, 12 have completed their collegiate eligibility, and only five - including Zerkle - come from non-power conference schools. To get an idea on the quality of the competition the Herd outfielder is joining, consider that of the 37 players, 25 represent the eight schools from the 2015 Women's College World Series as current players or alumnae.
So, what will be the degree of difficulty in the mental challenge for Zerkle to put those marquee names aside - many of whom have played for a Team USA at one level or another previously?
"That's probably one of my main goals -- to not get too overwhelmed with everything and compare myself to the other players," Zerkle said. "Just go out there and do what I know how to do - and do my best at it - and not think about that as much.
"But at the same time, be humbled that I'm there with them. So, there's a reason I'm there, too. Just remembering that is important."
Zerkle and Stanton aren't sure the process through which the Herd star got her invitation, but the Marshall coach figures it was through 20-year USF Coach Ken Eriksen, a former Team USA assistant who has strong ties to the national program. The Herd played at USF last spring.
Eriksen was the coach who nominated the Herd's previous Team USA tryout candidate - catcher Rebecca Gamby Lee - in the summer of 2012.
Stanton didn't hesitate when asked what makes Zerkle the kind of player who receives a Team USA opportunity.
"Hands down, it's her work ethic," the 17th-year Herd coach said. "Gosh, we've had a lot of talented kids come through our program and everybody thinks they're working hard and everybody in the country believes they're outworking somebody else, but `Z' really puts the time in to perfect her craft.
"She came in as (2014) freshman and hit close to .350 and you think that's a big deal and we challenged her, with her skill set, that she could do more - and she did. The work ethic and the time she has invested in the offseason, it's consistent.
"You'll have kids who will work hard on and off, if they feel like it, but she consistently makes the most of every break, whether it's winter or summer, she's in the weight room, cages, out running, something, she's getting after it. She knows what she has to do to get better at the game - to perfect her craft - and that's what she's working on."
Zerkle said she expects the Selection Camp to consist of day-long work, focusing on "position and skill drills, and I'd think a lot of scrimmaging."
Since last season ended, the 5-foot-9 Zerkle said she's been working on her hitting "a lot, from bunting to slapping to hitting, to make sure all three of those skills are proficient."
She's also had a "consultant" of sorts on international play in Herd sophomore second baseman Elicia D'Orazio, a Floridian who plays for the Puerto Rican National Team since her grandparents are natives of the island nation.
"We've talked a little bit just how it's an unbelievable feeling to play for your country, getting to do what you love at that kind of level," Zerkle said. "It's even different from college because you just don't have your hometown or college fans looking at you when you're playing - you have the whole country."
Zerkle, who has a 3.7 grade point average and is majoring in exercise science, said she already has exceeded her personal goals to date in Marshall softball. As for what's next when the 2016 season opens Feb. 12-14 in the Trojan Invitational at Troy (Ala.) University, she has some ideas.
"I always make (goals)," she said. "Last year, when I said I wanted to bat .500, that was kind of a push - writing that down - but it happened so I guess it's, `Never underestimate yourself,' and if you want it, go for it.
"This year, I want to have more RBIs and hit for power a little more, but at same time I want to still bunt and slap and keep my average up and get on base."
Stanton understands what Zerkle's Team USA Selection Camp opportunity also can mean for a program that has played in three of the last four C-USA Tournament championship games and produced 135 wins in those four years.
"The (Selection Camp) invitees, you see all those schools, and then see Marshall in the mix - that's awesome," Stanton said. "Gamby had the opportunity before, and it goes to show the reputation that Marshall has in the college softball community.
"There are a lot of kids who can have numbers, but we have a little bit of a sustainability when it comes to having quality players come out of this program. That's a credit to the kids who have come before her, to set `Z' up for this opportunity.
"It's one of those situations that because of her ability, her talent, her work ethic, her results - and those who have come before her -- she has this chance to go out and put Marshall on the big stage. And that's exciting for her and us."
Zerkle knows what she needs to do to turn heads in Irvine. It's what she's done so well for two Herd seasons.
"Well, for sure, my greatest asset is my speed," she said. "So, anytime I get on, I want to try to steal a base and show I can do that. That's really the advantage I might have over anyone else there."