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Mar 13, 2018 2:53 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Long Journey Has Led Four East End Softball Players To The College Level

Lauren Ramos (Molloy), Emma Candelaria (Wheaton), Kate Wilkie (Skidmore) and Angie Acampora (Hood) will all be playing softball in college next year. DREW BUDD
Mar 13, 2018 2:53 PM

For many young girls just starting out playing Little League softball, playing at the college level is an afterthought, or for some, a dream.

Four East End ball players are set to make their dreams a reality.

Angie Acampora, Emma Candelaria, Lauren Ramos and Kate Wilkie, at this time next year, will be playing collegiate softball. Acampora and Ramos are both seniors at Westhampton Beach High School and will attend Hood and Molloy Colleges, respectively, while Candelaria, a senior at Hampton Bays High School, will play at Wheaton College. Wilkie, a Hampton Bays resident who is a senior at Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School in Riverhead, will play at Skidmore College.

Walter Gravagna, a Riverhead resident who is the head coach of the NY Jaguars showcase travel team that Acampora, Candelaria and Wilkie play on, said all three of his players have achieved something to be proud of. The Jaguars, which consists of players from Nassau and Suffolk counties, with age groups ranging from 12U to 18U, currently boasts seven players who have committed to play in college, including Acampora, Candelaria and Wilkie, according to Gravagna.

“We’re a showcase team that travels throughout the northeast, showcasing girls for colleges. A lot of girls want to play in college, but a lot of girls don’t get that opportunity,” he said. “They’re recruiting more than just talent, and all three of the girls are off the charts, academically and athletically. All three of them are at the top of their classes, and not everyone can apply their competitiveness to both school and softball.

“Every girl on this team wants to play in college, and when some college coaches come out they want to talk to the players ... with these girls I don’t have sell them,” he added.

It’s not easy, in any sport, to be accepted on to a college team, but the girls put in the necessary hours to accomplish a goal that many of them said started when they reached high school. Between their school and travel seasons, the girls play approximately 90 games per year. During the school season, on top of practicing every day, they’re getting additional practices, batting sessions or pitching lessons, on top of traveling to various college clinics on the weekends. And it doesn’t stop in the offseason, with at least three practices during the week. Needless to say, there wasn’t much time for socializing with friends.

Then comes the recruitment process.

“The recruitment process is very difficult. There are a lot of steps to it, you have to figure out what schools you want to attend, you have to contact the coaches, they have to like your skill set. That process normally takes a very long time,” Wilkie explained.

High school student athletes these days take it upon themselves to create recruitment videos, showing off their skill set to prospective coaches. For some, such as Wilkie, that’s what got her to Skidmore. For others, being persistent helped.

“I didn’t make a skills video, I just contacted coaches annoyingly and they all came to my games,” Ramos said, with a laugh.

“Typically when you’re talking to a coach, they request certain clips of what they want to see. They don’t necessarily want to see a 10 minute recruitment video, as many people think,” Candelaria said. “It’s basically what the coach wants from you, and it can vary from coach to coach. Some coaches want to see everything, sometimes they just want to see your best pitches.”

In some sports, such as basketball and football, it’s tough getting college coaches to make the trip to the East End. But just about every softball player said they had college coaches come scout them at their games the past few seasons.

Even though their college futures are set, the players said they intend to work even harder now.

“The real work starts after you commit because you want to secure yourself a spot for when you get to college. That’s the motivation,” Wilkie said.

Gravagna said his three players—Acampora, Candelaria and Wilkie—aren’t slowing down any time soon.

“I can’t say enough about them, they’re all great kids, great people, and their leadership skills, for all of them, has led us the last couple of years,” he said. “Even after they committed—you commit in the summertime—they’ve only worked harder since making their commitments and it makes my job easy, I almost become just a cheerleader, because they’re making sure the other girls are doing what they’re supposed to. They set an example for younger girls, we have big organization, and I always tell the younger girls to watch those three. What they do makes my job easy as a coach, and it goes back to their parents.”

Of course, all of the four players got their start in their local Little Leagues, which, if it hadn’t been for those teams during their formative years, they may not be where they are today. For Ramos, who plays on the Long Island Chargers 18U Gold travel team, playing travel definitely helped develop the skill level that she needed to play at a college level, but Little League shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle, Acampora said.

“Little League isn’t something that, as a girl, you should skip if they know they want to go to college, just because it’s a really good experience to play with your friends,” she said. “Like me and Lauren have been playing together since we were little, now we’re still playing together and we’re both going to college. It’s really fun to go through that.”

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