Batter Up: Robins Airman swings her way on to the All-American team

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78th ABW/PA
For one Team Robins Airman, a passion for softball lead to a whirlwind month on the softball diamond. In the end she was named an All-American after helping the All-Armed Forces team earn top honors at the Amateur Softball Association Women's Slow Pitch National Championship.

Senior Airman Toni Epps' journey to the national championship game began while playing in the United States Specialty Sports Association Military Worlds Tournament in Orlando, Fla. As luck would have it the Robins Air Force Base team faced-off with the Hurlburt Field Commandos. As Robins battled to win, Cheryl Trapnell, the coach of the All-Air Force slow-pitch softball team looked on from the opposing dugout. She too was there to win as a member of the Commandos, but she was also there scouting for fresh talent for the All- Air Force team. Epps, a maintenance controller in the 5th Combat Communications Group, was one of two players picked up during the tournament who would join the Air Force team just a few weeks later as they took gold at the 2007 All-Armed Forces Women's Softball Championship at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

But, first she had to survive the Air Force's Women's Softball training camp also held at Hill AFB. Epps was one of 26 players invited to vie for a spot on the Air Force Team, but only 15 were chosen.

"She was an infield player and I converted her to the outfield because that's where I needed her skills," Ms. Trapnell said.

She added, one of the reasons she decided Epps would be an asset to the outfield was because of her speed.

Once Epps and the other 14 members of the team were announced, the team hit the field to practice before heading to a tournament in Las Vegas. Epps said the results of that tournament were heartbreaking, but the perfect motivation to get herself and her teammates back to the practice field.

"We lost all our games. We were worried and we came back and we just practiced and practiced," Epps said.

The team's drive to improve and willingness to practice helped them reign victorious at the All-Armed Forces Tournament.

"The very first day we went undefeated against all the other teams, Army, Navy and Marines," Epps added. "The one game we lost out there we got beat pretty bad but then we came back in the last game to beat them."

However, the highlight for Epps was her ability to excel on the offensive, which according to her is the weaker side of her game.

Epps said she was surprised when Ms. Trapnell chose her as a clean-up hitter for the team.

"She did a great job in the outfield and at the plate," Ms. Trapnell said. "She was a key player in our success out there."

The decision was apparently right on as Epps' batting average soared during the All-Armed Forces tourney.

"I had the highest batting average for the whole tournament," Epps said.

As the All-Armed Forces tourney ended, Airman Epps geared up for the next leg of her journey as a member of the All-Armed Forces team, which competed and won the national championship at the ASA Nationals tourney in Oklahoma.

The All-Armed Forces coach, Senior Chief Petty Officer Kirk Myer described Airman Epps' achievements as reaching all the milestones you can reach the first time out.

"She can hit. She can run. She's phenomenal," he said. "She is one of the best women outfielders I have ever coached."

He added that Airman Epps was a smart defensive and offensive player making her a true asset to the All-Armed Forces team.

Epps said there wasn't a stand-out on the team, the entire team just worked well as a team, everyone was making the catches and the hits.

Epps said one of the many things that made her participation in the tournaments special was having different members of her family come out and support her.

"I made a sliding catch and I looked up in the stands and I could see my grandmother stand up and say that's my granddaughter," said Epps.

Epps said she thought that winning the state championship in high school would be her crowning glory on the softball field, but now her journey as an Air Force softball player and a national champ trumps all.

"To have U.S.A. on your uniform and to go out there and yell armed forces when you stand in a circle, was definitely a proud moment," Epps said.