HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State softball coach Jayne Clem and former Lady Lion standouts Kori Benson and Madeline Lee have a chance to compete together one last time.
In Canada, representing the United States.
All three have been selected to represent an elite collection of National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) players and coaches at the 2014 Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship. The tournament begins July 12 in Surrey, British Columbia, showcasing some of the premier female athletes in the world.
The NJCAA national squad, comprised of 16 players and three coaches, will play the U.S. Olympic softball team, Japan and many other well-seasoned clubs.
Clem, Benson and Lee leave for Canada on July 9.
"It's my first time to go to Canada. It's going to be neat to represent the best from the NJCAA and our country. We will be playing against the best of the best from different countries. We just want to go up there, play our best and show people what junior college softball is all about," said Clem, who has won 761 games in 15 seasons at Wallace State.
Clem said the NJCAA hasn't fielded a team for the Canadian Open in nearly 15 years, but last offseason the coaches within the association proposed to restart the tradition of assembling a team for the tournament. It took a year for it to come to fruition. The NJCAA national team was initially set to compete against other teams from within the U.S. in the women's elite bracket, but has now been combined with the international division.
Eligible team members have to be sophomores who graduated from their respective institutions, maintaining at least a 2.5 GPA along the way. Junior college coaches across the county submitted their player nominations and a national committee selected the team members.
Clem has established Wallace State softball as one of the elite teams among all of the NJCAA ranks, winning a pair of national championships (2008, 2013) and adding a pair of runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2010. She has guided the Lady Lions to eight state championships and been named the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) Coach of the Year 11 times.
Benson and Lee finished their Wallace State careers in May as two of the best in the program's history, each key members of the 2013 national championship squad.
Benson finished her career as the program's all-time leading home run hitter, blasting 38 homers over a two-year span, including setting a single-season mark with 23 bombs in 2013. She was named a NJCAA 2nd-team All-American in 2014 after hitting a team-high .445 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs. Benson added 12 doubles and slugged .787. She was third in the conference in homers, fourth in average and was also a first-team ACCC/All-Region 22 selection, battling through a back injury all season.
As a freshman in 2013, Benson had a .352 average and 69 RBIs to go along with her 23 homers and also racked up a trio of postseason awards, earning the 2013 NJCAA national tournament defensive MVP, a NFCA All-American nod and the ACCC/Region 22 state tournament MVP trophy.
Lee was as equally important to Wallace State's success the past two seasons. Lee, who also fought through injuries in 2014, finished her sophomore campaign with a .417 average, 12 home runs and 55 RBIs en route to an All-ACCC/Region 22 first-team selection. She also led the Lady Lions with a team-high 23 doubles.
As a freshman, the Lady Lions' second baseman hit .385 with nine homers, 37 RBIs, 15 doubles, 19 steals and a .428 on base percentage and earned an all-tournament selection at the national tournament in St. George, Utah.
"It will be fun to coach Kori and Madeline one last time," said Clem about the upcoming Canada trip. "I know we will soak in the entire experience."
Benson has signed to play next season with Shorter University in Rome, Ga., and Lee will play her final two seasons at UNA.
Clem will be one of three coaches on the NJCAA All-Star staff in Canada. She'll be joined by Howie Smith from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College and Joe Yegge of Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College. They'll all serve as co-coaches.
Benson and Lee are among the five infielders on the team. The remaining infielders are Katie White, Gulf Coast (Fla.) State College; Brooklyn Clark, LSU-Eunice and Alexandria Ortiz of Indian River (Fla.) State College.
Outfielders on the team are Courtney Shields from Southern Union; Kylene Hatton, North Idaho College; Codi Covington, LSU-Eunice and Shelby Duncan, Indian River State College. Kate James of Butler (Kan.) Community College, Hannah Day of Northwest Florida State College and Danielle Craft of Mississippi Gulf Coast CC are the three catchers making the trip.
The pitching staff consists of Kaisey Carson of Northwest Florida State College; Huntyre Elling, Indian River State College and Shyanne Saladino and Sam Belz, both of Kirkwood (Iowa) CC.
Pictured right is Jayne Clem