Sara Fishel has been at home on a ball diamond since she was a 3-year-old T-ball player.
Now, as a Brown County High School sophomore, Fishel’s softball career has taken her to Taiwan. She competed in an international softball tournament Feb. 5 to 12 in the city of Puli in Nantou County.
As if that weren’t enough of a thrill, she was named Most Valuable Player of her team by the Chinese Taipei Amateur Softball Association.
“She’s very fast, she’s very smart, she makes good decisions at the plate and is just a strong athlete as well,” coach Cara Johnson Hirsch said.
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The international competition was sponsored by the Chinese Taipei ASA. Fishel and her team of 16 players from all over Indiana represented the United States.
“I’ve always thought it would be really, really cool to travel for softball, or for a sport in general, especially to somewhere like that and represent the United States. That’s personally a dream come true to me,” Fishel said.
She competed on the SoftballOne team. SoftballOne is a fast-pitch training company based in Brownsburg.
“I am pretty proud of how I did and the team did while we were there and I can’t wait to see how some of the things I learned will affect my future play,” Fishel said once she returned home.
Hirsch, the owner of SoftballOne, said the team found out about Fishel through friends she had played with on another travel team, and they asked her to join.
This was the third year SoftballOne had participated in the tournament. Another SoftballOne coach and fast pitch instructor, Laview Wumas-Wen, played on the Taiwan Olympics team.
“We have a few connections,” Hirsch said.
In 2008, Hirsch was hired as a hitting coach for Taiwan’s Olympic team. She was there for a few months, and when she returned, she was asked to bring a team to participate in the international competition.
Fishel joined her first travel softball team when she was 10.
“The team aspect kept me into it, more than being good or bad at it. All of my friends played softball, so I stayed in it,” she said.
Three years ago she decided to take a break from softball because it was taking up a lot of her time. She joined Brown County High School’s tennis team instead last year.
“It was rough,” she said about playing tennis. “When the ball goes over the fence in tennis, it’s not a good thing.”
She will return to the softball field as an Eagle this spring.
Fishel is mostly a catcher but is also a utility player, meaning she can play in the outfield or infield.
Hirsch called Fishel’s performance during the competition “game changing.”
“She started the first game, and she sat the next two, then she came in. … I think there was only one time throughout the tournament that she didn’t get a hit,” Hirsch said.
“She was just a really positive teammate as well. I can’t say enough good things about her. It was a really pleasure to get to watch her play and get to know her.”
Fishel said she was looking forward to seeing the difference in the way Americans and Asians play softball.
“Their technique is completely different. The way they view the game is completely different,” she said. “Everything from their technique and how they throw the ball to their batting styles (is different).”
“I feel like personally seeing that and having that experience will better me as a player and better me as a person. It will also help me better understand the game, especially coming up on the high school season,” she said.
The SoftballOne team played 10 games against teams from China and Taiwan. Players came from junior highs, high schools and colleges.
“Everything went very well in Taiwan and the trip was definitely one of my best and favorite experiences that I have ever had,.” Fishel said after returning home.
“Not only was the competition great, but all of the social differences really helped open my eyes about some other parts of the world.”
They were scheduled to play against a Japanese team, but that team did not travel to Taiwan due to a 6.1 magnitude earthquake that happened in Taiwan Feb. 4 — the night before the U.S. team arrived.
The second night they were there, the team felt six earthquakes while they were staying in their hotel, Hirsch said.
Fishel said the earthquake was one of the most memorable moments from her trip.
“(The earthquake) was huge and actually very scary for all of us being from Indiana where we don’t have any,” she said.
“I am very glad no one near us was hurt.”
“The girls were carrying around backpacks that had flashlights, water and shoes (in them),” she said. “The girls came back and won the game that day. It was probably the best game that we played.”
Despite the earthquakes, Hirsch said this was the most positive Taiwan trip SoftballOne has had. She said Fisher excelled in every position the coaches put her in.
“A lot of kids, you can’t transfer positions. That really starts with a mental approach, a caring approach to the game. A lot of kids will not do that because of their maturity level. She did it willingly and excelled at it.
“I don’t know if she’s committed to anywhere to play (for college), but she’s going places. I can tell that after this trip: She’s going places.”