By Wayne Witkowski
As high school and college softball is winding down, the New Jersey Cheetahs elite travel program prepares for the start of practices, training and playing showcase games that begin in a few weeks.
“It’s going good,” said David Dominici, who founded the Cheetahs in 2004 and is the president of the program, which has six teams for girls ages 14-18. “We expect to expand this fall by another four or five teams at least, if not more.”
Dominici said he wants structured teams with organized practices and training, as well as games for girls in the 8, 10 and 12 age groups.
“We are trying to develop the younger ages,” he said. “We think we do a really good job training these older kids, so if we can get them younger than 14, they can learn our system at a younger age. Then we think it will benefit them. It’s in the works.”
What enhances the program’s efforts is its partnership with the Game Time Performance complex in Yardville, Dominici said.
Competing about six months a year, the Dominici 18U Premier team comes off a solid fall season in which it went 31-5 and finished ranked 96th out of 2,500 teams based partly on the showing of a tournament in Huntington Beach, California. It went undefeated in a Team New Jersey event in Edison that hosted 100 teams, went 6-1 in the Triple Crown Superstars Championship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that had more than 75 teams competing and won the Inferno Field of Champions in Edison that included nearly 75 teams.
The Cheetahs again will host two tournaments: the Cheetah Summer Sunshine Tournament at the Allentown fields in mid-June and another fall tournament.
Twelve teams will participate in the summer Cheetah tournament, including teams from New York, Massachusetts, Delaware and Maryland. The Cheetahs won the summer and fall tournaments the last two years.
Plans are still in the works for the fall tournament.
It starts with a showcase at Seton Hall University June 10. After the Allentown tournament, the Cheetahs will be among 100 teams competing in the Team New Jersey Tournament June 20-24 in Edison. They’ll head from there to Colorado for a showcase through July 2 and then travel to their first international event: the Canada Cup Championship in British Columbia July 9-16.
The summer schedule ends with the PGF Nationals in Huntington Beach.
Along with its performance on the field, the Cheetahs are ranked 50th out of 2,500 teams in the College Placement Index. Sixteen players on the three 18U teams have decided on a college, including seven with college commitments playing on the Dominici team: Kayla Conners (third base) for Wagner College, Kira Feriaola (second base) for Sacred Heart University, Meghan Graham (center field) for George Mason University, Lauren Holdsworth (third base) for Eastern Michigan University, Taylor Marinelli (first base/catcher/outfield) for St. Joseph’s University, Jacqueline Spizzen (pitcher) for Emory University and Jazley Szierer (first base) for Southeastern University.
Four others on that team are verbally committed: Carli Backlund for Central Connecticut State University (shortstop), Julia Martine (shortstop) for Fordham University, Maddie Mckevitt (left field) for Winthrop University and Jess Gaughan (infield/outfield) for St. Joseph’s.
On the Rupert team, Courtney Skolka (catcher) is all set for Arcadia University, and Grace Dawson (outfield), who had some big moments at Allentown High School, is verbally committed to Seton Hall.
Christina Shragger (outfield) on the Ferraiola team is committed to Drexel University, and teammates Kylie Gletow (pitcher) and Ally Jones (catcher) are verbally committed to Monmouth University and Fordham, respectively.
Along with the three 18-year-old teams, there is a 16U Carroll team and two 14U teams: Walsh and Cutshaw.
There also is a Chicago Cheetahs affiliate program that fields four teams in the 18U, 16U and 14U (two) age teams. Both the 18U Premier team and a 14U team qualified for the PGF Nationals, with the 18U team reaching the nationals for the second year in a row. A 14U team finished second last fall in the ASA /USA Hall of Fame Qualifier.