ADRIAN, Mich.--After receiving a bachelor's degree in psychology during Adrian College graduation ceremonies to end April, Jaime Lightner (Eaton Rapids High School) was so excited for the next chapter in her life. She learned that she would spend a week in the middle of June to represent the United States to play softball in Europe with USA Athletes International (USAAI).
"I received some information from my AC coaches about USA Athletes International and then got the invitation to go on their tour," the social work minor said. "I got a connecting flight in New York City where I flew out on Monday, June 11, with one coach and 11 other girls from multiple states and different colleges. Upon arrival in Netherlands, we met up with our head coach and our guide for the next five days."
Lightner became instant teammates with fellow players from NCAA Division I programs Longwood University (Farmville, Va.), Division II teams Saginaw Valley State University (University Center, Mich.), Fairmont (W.Va.) State University, Alderson Broaddus University (Philippi, W.Va.) and D-III squads Bethel University (Arden Hills, Minn.) and Delaware Valley University (Doylestown, Pa.). The USAAI travel team was coached by Christy Connoyer, out of D-I St. Louis University.
USAAI played five games against different teams from all over Netherlands, including a meeting against Olympia at the field where Team USA played Japan in the 2014 Women's Softball World Championship in Haarlem. Lightner said it was an honor to play at the same venue where the best softball players in the world battled.
In Amersfoort, Lightner and Company put their skills on display against a local team of all-stars before an audience of aspiring youth softball players. After the game, both squads conducted a softball clinic for girls ages 7-14 that covered topics like agility, drop steps, mental toughness and batting tips.
"It was a great trip and I learned a lot. Softball isn't much different besides their fences and fields (which are farther from home plate and bigger dimensions)," says Lightner, who noted the most important aspects of the experience for her was the friendships she forged with so many. "Europe likes to speed up the game so they have small rules like (the batter) always keeping the foot in the box and no throwing the ball around (by the defense after an out). They really want to keep the game going where as in America we tend to take our time play our game and go slow."
During the athletes' spare time, they visited numerous towns to take in the historic sites, shopping and conversing with locals. Their itinerary included stops to Bad Bentheim, Germany (castles) and, of course, Netherlands towns of Borne (Small Sacred Church), Oud Loosdrecht (historic hotel), Amsterdam (Downtown, Heineken Experience, tattoo shops, canal cruise), Apeldoorn (Apehill Zoo), Levsden (Concentration Camp), Volendam (fisheries, motorized bikes factory, stroopwafel, popular swimming spot), and Amstelveen (Clara Maria Cheese & Clog Farm).
Since 1992, USAAI has been a global leader in educational/sports tours. Providing recommended student-athletes with the opportunity to participate in the sport they love on the international stage and providing them with cultural opportunities that will allow them to learn about the location at the same time. A USAAI tour is an educational opportunity facilitated by an athletic event.
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