Alan Dell

Commentary: Whidden’s dream is coming true

There is something powerful about believing in yourself.

See Cassidy Whidden.

Unless you’re a meticulous follower of softball around Manatee and Sarasota counties, the most notable thing you might have heard about Cassidy is that her older sister Ashton plays at Saint Leo University.

But the right people know about the 17-year-old, which is the only thing that matters.

It’s a reason Cassidy has verbally committed to Notre Dame and will go into her senior year at Saint Stephen’s in the fall as the area’s most highly touted college softball prospect.

When she signs a letter-of-intent to play for the Irish next fall, it will complete a journey filled with potholes and red flags. But Cassidy never wavered or got off course.

Saint Stephen’s plays Class 2A softball, which in some circles gets more bad looks than looks. To make it worse for Whidden, the school didn’t field a varsity softball team her sophomore year.

Getting a Division I college softball coach to come and see her was like trying to sell them a ticket to Siberia — there was nothing to view but barren wasteland.

Cassidy did the next best thing and took her talent on the road believing someone would notice. It took courage and a mom (Elizabeth), who never doubted her daughter and dug deep into her pockets to make it happen.

The dominoes started to fall into place as word got out about this 5-foot-9 bundle of talent.

Things came to fruition last summer when she attended a softball camp at Notre Dame. Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf pulled Cassidy aside and offered her a scholarship.

“I just started crying, I was so overwhelmed,” Cassidy recalled. “It was awesome. I was just so thankful. I had been going to their softball camp for a few years because the coach of my travel team recommended it.”

The road to Notre Dame began a few years back when Kevin O’Donnell, head coach of the New Jersey Intensity, an elite national traveling team, saw Whidden play and invited her to join his club.

“Playing for that team got me a lot of exposure,” Cassidy said. “I wound up getting offers from Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Michigan and Missouri. The exposure first started when I played for Team Florida, but when I got with New Jersey everything was amplified.”

Cassidy’s dream has always been to play for a top level Division I program. She visited the programs on her own expense and found that nothing felt better than Notre Dame, which was ranked in the top 25 this season.

“When I visited there my freshman year, I just fell in love with the campus and knew this is where I wanted to be. I just didn’t know how they felt about me,” she said.

Cassidy found out this was a mutual love affair despite coming off a year with no high school softball on her resume. Icing on the cake, her official visit is set for the weekend of the Notre Dame-Michigan football game.

The naysayers told Whidden it might be a good idea to find another high school if she was serious about playing big time college softball. She didn’t agree and believed things would come together.

“High school softball is just not important in getting recognized at the collegiate level,” Whidden said. “If you go watch a high school game and then go to one of these tournaments where they have elite travel teams, people would be surprised at what they see. I never worried about not getting noticed. They want me to be their catcher and don’t plan on redshirting me.”

The person Cassidy feels most grateful to is her mother.

“She has done everything for me, signed me up for camps, paid for airline tickets and gave me every opportunity to realize my dream,” Cassidy said. “This all costs a pretty penny, and I will never forget it. My sister also helped, she told me never to give up and don’t let people try to knock you down.”