When Bill Finucane's U14 Lawrence Phenix arrived in Park City, Utah, for the Triple Crown World Series in it didn't take long to realize the kind of competition they were up against.
"The folks that ran the tournament, they talked about how there were a number of teams from California and Arizona who usually play year round," Finucane said.
Not only that, these teams from California and Arizona were better funded than the team that came from the Midwest, judging by their equipment. But while these California and Arizona teams were familiar with each other, they couldn't figure out the little softball team from Lawrence.
"I'd have to explain, we're from Lawrence, Kan, the name of the group is the Phenix," Finucane said. "Everybody thought, 'Well, gee wiz, we never saw you around Phoenix.' Well, because we weren't there."
By the end of the tournament, every team in Park City was aware of the U14 Lawrence Phenix. The team lasted 10 games into the tournament, winning eight and taking third place.
Throughout the tournament, Finucane's team took the best teams in the country to the limit. The Phenix won their first six games until falling to the Arizona Power. Finucane had a feeling then that the Power might just win it all.
"They were one of the better team's I've seen in coaching," Finucane said. "Gosh, they probably had six coaches and I think 15 girls on the team. That was a team that you could tell played year round."
Finucane was right. The Power rolled along after beating the Phenix and won the tournament. But the Phenix recovered from the loss and won two more games to take the title as the third-best team in the nation.
Throughout the event regardless of the opponent, Finucane said one constant was his team was never intimidated. He said his team just showed up and focused on playing the best they could.
"They knew they were playing some good teams," Finucane said. "Their confidence as they'd play and do well just grew and grew."
Finucane pointed to those around him as the reason for the team's success. He said the players had the right attitude and made his job easy. His coaches, Lee Ice and Marv Oller shared their knowledge of the game in tournaments and practices.
In crunch time, Finucane said timely pitching and hitting, combined with a great clubhouse atmosphere, helped his team pull through. He recognized a few of the many key players on his team in these areas.
When it came to pitching, Anna Mages and Kaylee Mader led the way. Although Mader joined the Phenix just this summer, she became a quality player for the team, whether she was pitching or not. When she wasn't, Mages usually was.
"She (Anna Mages) has worked extremely hard over the offseason and has turned out to be a great pitcher," Finucane said.
As for hitting, Finucane couldn't help but notice the improvement Lexi Smith had made since the previous season. Plus, she settled in at one of the toughest defensive positions in softball third base.
Perhaps most important for the Phenix was they didn't allow adversity to affect the team.
Instead, players offered encouragement, giving each other confidence. Finucane said Mages helped keep the mood in the dugout light, but Kacie Welborn was the best.
"Kacie always makes it interesting in the dugout," Finucane said. "She has a lot of spirit and keeps things pretty loose."
One player Finucane was hesitant to talk about was his daughter, Haley. Not that he wasn't proud of her, nor was she undeserving of mention. Finucane just didn't want to play favorites.
"It's tough for me to talk about," Finucane said. "But I thought my daughter played pretty well out there."
Finucane said he wasn't sure how his girls would fare in Utah.
He did have a pretty good idea how well his team had grasped the fundamentals of the game they'd been taught. That was all he needed to know.
The teams from California and Arizona didn't find that out about the little softball team from Lawrence until it was too late.
"I figured there'd be some pretty good caliber of teams out there, and there were," Finucane said. "I wanted to go out there play well and compete and I think the entire team did."