By DOUG DONNELLY
OTTAWA LAKE – Aly VanBrandt has two seasons of high school softball left, but she already has her future mapped out after that.
The Whiteford junior recently announced that she has verbally committed to playing college softball at Indiana University.
“I knew that Indiana was the right choice for me after spending time with the coaches and players,” VanBrandt said. “Their softball program has a family feeling that is very special and I feel so blessed that I get to be a part of it.”
VanBrandt began playing travel softball at the age of 8 and became part of the Whiteford softball program when she was in the fifth grade when then head coach Kris Hubbard invited her to be a manager for the varsity.
After her freshman season was canceled due to COVID-19, VanBrandt exploded onto the prep scene last year, setting single-season Whiteford records for batting average in a season (.642), hits (77), runs scored (66) and stolen bases (40). She led off 24 of Whiteford’s 36 games by reaching base and helped the Bobcats go 32-4 and reach the Division 4 quarterfinals. She was named all-league, all-region and all-state.
“I liked softball from the start, but my love for the game just kept growing as I got older,” she said.
She credits numerous coaches she’s played for, including Hubbard, her parents Matt and Audra VanBrandt, Turnin2 16u National Pezzoni coach Ron Pezzoni and Jeff Eisenbrandt for teaching her the game.
“When I was 12, I started playing for (Eisenbrandt),” she said. “Before I played on his team, I didn’t really realize that there was a higher level of softball than the smaller local tournaments that I had always played in when I was younger. He taught me how to hit, field, and throw with the correct technique. One of my favorite things that he taught me was an off-foot throw, which I used quite a bit this fall. He was the coach that really set a strong base for me to become the player that I am today.”
Matt VanBrandt is the Whiteford varsity coach and Audra, formerly head coach at Bedford, is an assistant at Whiteford and helps with Turnin2.
“I couldn’t have reached this goal without my parents,” Aly said. “They’ve been with me every step of the way and have provided me with the opportunities that I’ve used to get this far. They’ve pushed me and are always trying to help me. They listen and learn from every coach they can so that they’re able to help and I haven’t thanked them enough.”
Going to watch the University of Michigan play softball helped her decide college softball is something she wanted to do.
“All I knew was that I wanted to be like those girls on the field,” she said.
Last summer, VanBrandt played all over the country with her travel team.
“We traveled to Colorado, Virginia, and South Carolina, plus two tournaments in Ohio and one in Michigan,” she said. “I know it might seem crazy to travel that much for softball but going to those big tournaments allows us to play against some of the best teams in the country and helps us be seen by more college coaches.”
VanBrandt visited Indiana University, located in Bloomington, in September.
“Indiana has such a gorgeous campus with some of the best athletic facilities,” she said. “Everyone I met was super friendly and welcoming.”
The 2022 softball season is just around the corner. The Bobcats return all but one player from last year’s team that won the Tri-County Conference, district and regional championships.
“My goal for the 2022 high school season is to do everything that we did last year and more,” she said. “We were a young team last year and we have so much potential. Seeing how much better all of our players got throughout last season makes me excited to see what we will do this year.”