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NSL 2023 Preview: Manchester’s Finest Take on the National League

Pictured: Meerkats 2022 NSL3 team

Jump to: Travelling Dodgers, Camels, Tempest, Mavericks, Meerkats, Sharks, Tempest 2

The National Softball League kicks off on May 20th with NSL1 at Farnham Park in Slough. The National League consists of three divisions of 12 teams each and games are played over three weekends.

NSL logo

The NSL began life in 2009 as an opportunity for the best in leagues across the UK to compete, with one division and 17 teams. NSL2 was created in 2016 with 12 teams and a third division. NSL3 began in 2018 with 8 teams. There are hopes for a fourth division being created for the 2024 season. All games are played at Farnham Park in Slough, across three weekends. Games are played for overall league points and there are cup final games for each individual weekend. The top 8 teams from Divisions 1 & 2 go into the NSL National Championships tournament in September. No games were played in 2020 due to Covid and a partial league ran in 2021.

Seven Manchester based teams compete in the National League at various levels. We catch up with their captains ahead of the first weekend.

 

Travelling Dodgers

Travelling Dodgers NSL logo

Captain: Jonny Huck
League: NSL1
Highest finish: NSL1 National Championship winners 2021, NSL1 League Champions 2019 
Tenure: 6 seasons, since 2016 (exc. 2020)

 

Travelling Dodgers are an incredibly successful tournament team. Joining NSL2 on its creation in 2016, they were the first team to be promoted to NSL1 that year. They went on to win the NSL1 league in 2019. A top four finish in 2021 entered them into the National Championships (NSL1 nationals), emerging as the winners. As winners of the Championship tournament, they have earned a place in the European Championships, which are being held in Sofia, Bulgaria in August. Their first game at Farnham this year is against local rivals, Spittin’ Camels. Captain Jonny Huck has high expectations this year.

Travelling Dodgers at Farnham Park
Travelling Dodgers at Farnham Park

“My expectations this season are to attempt to win the NSL1 league again for the first time since 2019, reclaim our NSL1 national title which we won in 2021 and win the euros, which are being hosted in Sofia, Bulgaria in August. We have spent the offseason recruiting some additional amazing talent to add to the unbelievable talent and people we already have within the team. I have total trust and belief in my players so I think we are going to have a great year and a whole lot of fun along the way”

He goes on to explain the exciting energy at Farnham Park.

“I love the weekends down at Farnham Park as you get to mix with so many interesting people who are all passionate about their softball.”
Jonny Huck, Travelling Dodgers

“NSL is growing all the time with 3 leagues and a fourth on the horizon. I love the weekends down at Farnham Park as you get to mix with so many interesting people who are all passionate about their softball. During your off games you can watch some great softball whilst chatting with friends and grabbing some refreshments at Home Plate bar. Home Plate often put on some evening entertainment for people to enjoy. It is a fun place to be, with a great vibe.”

 

British Softball Federation

Travelling Dodgers and Tempest take 2021 NSL Nationals titles

Camels

Camels NSL logo

Captain: Adam Hugill & Adam Brookbanks
League: NSL1
Highest finish: 1st in NSL2, 2022
Tenure: 4 seasons, joined NSL3 in 2018 (No competition in 2020)

 

Camels have had a successful four seasons in the NSL. They joined NSL3 on its creation in 2018 and are climbing their way up the ranks. Their first game is against our own Travelling Dodgers. Captain Adam Hugill details Camels’ hopes for the season and what’s great about the NSL.

“The aim for the season is to qualify for the Nationals, by way of a top 8 finish, but as it’s our first season up we’d probably take just avoiding relegation back to NSL2. We’ve got a (mostly) young exciting team that will get better through the year and beyond.”

“The tournaments are the highest standard of softball in the country and the games are played at an intensity that league play just can’t match!”
Adam Hugill, Spittin’ Camels

“NSL is great, it gives you a chance to see how you stack up against teams around the country. Once you get up to NSL1, see how you compare against the best in the country. The tournaments are the highest standard of softball in the country and the games are played at an intensity that league play just can’t match!”

British Softball Federation

Legends, Camels, Havoc & Milton Keynes hold leads after first NSL weekend

Tempest

Tempest NSL logo

Captains: Mark “Griff” Griffin
League: NSL1
Highest finish: 2nd in NSL2, 2022
Tenure: 4 seasons (exc. 2022)

 

Tempest joined NSL3 in 2018 and they were promoted to NSL2 that year. They finished second last year to be promoted to NSL1. In the 3 years they have been in the NSL2 league, they have finished the regular season in the top three and won the NSL2 Nationals title (Championships held in September) every season. Their captain Griff, previously a Thunder player, is now based in Dubai. A large proportion of the team are Manchester players, mainly from Mossley Mayhem. Tempest’s first game is against the (Windsor) Knights.

Watch: NSL National Championships 2021 – Camels v Tempest

Manchester player Emma Agostini gives the US perspective of the Nationals.

“The scope of NSL, bringing many of the best players from all over the country together in one league, is so cool, and has allowed me to meet a whole community of people I just never would’ve met otherwise!”
Emma Agostini, Tempest
 
Tempest at the NSL
Tempest at the NSL. Photo credit: Mark Griffin

“NSL was a weird first experience for me actually, since I grew up playing softball and so didn’t discover the sport from being in England. In America, slow pitch is viewed as Rec, beer league softball or competitive college level fastpitch/baseball, so I had a pretty specific idea of what softball was. So to come here and then get to play NSL, which is high level, competitive slow pitch was very different but in an amazing way. I basically got to fall in love with this sport all over again thanks to the combo of MSL and NSL. The MSL is amazing, and I think to have a league this size in Manchester is so so so incredible and such a credit to the execs and everyone who’s been a part of growing it to what it is. The scope of NSL though, bringing many of the best players from all over the country together in one league, is so cool, and has allowed me to meet a whole community of people I just never would’ve met otherwise! That’s the best part for me, all the people I’ve met from outside of Manchester thanks to NSL. Another highlight for me is getting to playing on real, dirt softball diamonds.”

 

British Softball Federation

Tempest takes an early lead as the NSL2 season gets under way

Watch: NSL2 National Championships 2019 – Tempest v Honey Badgers

Mavericks

Mavericks NSL logo

Captains: Emma Carruthers & Peter Nightingale
League: NSL2
Highest finish: 11th in NSL1, 2019
Tenure: 6 seasons, since 2016 (exc. 2020)

 

One of the oldest Manchester teams, Mavericks began their NSL journey in 2016 in NSL2. They gained promotion to NSL1 in 2018. It’s tough at the top and Mavericks were relegated to NSL2 last year. Their first game is against Glasgow based Honey Badgers.

Emma Carruthers and Peter Nightingale, who’ve captained since the 2022 season, moved to Mavericks NSL in 2018 having wanted to represent their club nationally. They discuss their move to Mavericks NSL and the intensity of the competition.

“It’s been a privilege to play on some wonderful tournament teams in NSL, and its predecessors, but having the opportunity to play for your league side at a national level is something special.”

“We’re looking forward to Mavericks debuts from a few Manchester players this year. Our aim is to fight for the wins against what we know will be tough competition, and above all keep enjoying it.”
Emma Carruthers, Mavericks

“In NSL1 there are obviously the top flight teams and international level players, and in some cases weekend squads of 16-18 people, which for a lot of us is unthinkable. Although Mavericks were able to give a few of them a run for their money in NSL1 last year, wins were hard to come by. In simple terms there were 4 wins between us and not being relegated – when we consider we lost 3 games by a single run, and two more by 2 runs, you can see that it can be very fine margins. That’s what makes it exciting and frustrating in equal measure.”

The captains are optimistic for this season.

Mavericks at the NSL National Championships
Mavericks at the NSL National Championships, September 2017 Photo credit: Tanya Basu

“We’re looking forward to Mavericks debuts from a few Manchester players this year. Our aim is to fight for the wins against what we know will be tough competition, and above all keep enjoying it. Farnham is the best venue in the country. As well as getting to play on dirt pitches, the close proximity of the fields to one another gives a real ‘event’ atmosphere, as well as allowing us to watch our fellow Manchester teams in action.” 

British Softball Federation

NSL Nationals won by Pioneers, Mavs and Misfits

Watch: British Softball Federation’s NSL2 FINAL 2018 (Bees v Mavericks)

Meerkats

Meerkats NSL logo

Captain: Sonia Hine
League: NSL3
Highest finish: 3rd in NSL 3, 2022
Tenure: 1 season (joined NSL3 in 2022)

 

Meerkats joined NSL3 last year. They won the cup finals on weekends 1 & 2 and just missed out on promotion by 1 point! They aim to be NSL3 champions this year. Their first game is against Berkshire team Bracknell. Captain Sonia Hine describes the tough competition.

“When NSL3 was introduced, some very strong teams were able to enter. It’s a great level of play and they have increased the amount of dirt fields, which is a completely new experience.”
Sonia Hine, Meerkats

“Some people think NSL3 teams won’t be as competitive, but the fact is, it was hard to get into NSL. If you weren’t already in NSL1 or 2, there was no way of getting in. So when NSL3 was introduced, some very strong teams were able to enter. We even had players who watched our games say that we would have given some of the NSL2 teams a good run for their money.”

Farnham Park has great facilities, which Sonia says makes for a good softball experience.

“It’s a great level of play and they have increased the amount of dirt fields, which is a completely new experience if you’ve never played on it before, mainly for the infielders. It’s good to have proper dug outs too, shade you from the sun, hang all your bats on the fence. It’s exciting.”

Sharks

Sharks NSL logo

Captain: Stephen Shearer
League: NSL3
Highest finish: 6th in NSL 3, 2022
Tenure: 1 season (joined NSL3 in 2022)

 

Newbies to NSL last year, Sharks finished a modest 6th. Their first game is against London team Spam. Captain Stephen Shearer has his eyes on promotion.

“Our expectation is to push for the top two for promotion. We need to be tougher as they have expanded NSL3 from eight to twelve teams and there are some strong teams that have joined.”

Shearer sees the tough competition as the league’s highlight.

“Possibly the structure [is the best bit]. You know the opponents and fixtures well in advance. Although it’s three tournaments, there are also league points at stake. It’s very tough and the standard is very good. Most teams are comfortable as good Div 1 teams and above that standard.”

Tempest 2

Tempest 2 NSL logo

Captains: Annie Downes, Dave Warren, Andrew Bogie
League: NSL3
Highest finish: N/A
Tenure: New entry for this season!

 

Tempest 2 are a new entry for 2023. Their first game is against Cardiff based Storm. Co-captains Annie Downes and Andrew Bogie tell us about the team’s creation and hopes for the season.

“Manchester Tempest was formed by our chairman Mark “Griff” Griffin in 2017, following on from a very short-lived Rec team formed from Thunder’s then-fourth and fifth teams, Drizzcanes. Assembling a team of competitive players from across the MSL, we competed in the Diamond Series at Farnham Park, initially at the lower level, then adding a higher level team, which went on to enter NSL in 2018. In 2022, “Big Tempest” got promotion to NSL1 after a few years of narrow misses. Tempest 2 continued to play Diamond Series events, and the natural progression was to enter NSL3 – when the division expanded from eight to 12 teams for the 2023 season, Griff took the opportunity to enter.”

Tempest playing NSL2 in 2022
Tempest playing NSL in 2022 Photo credit: British Softball Federation

“We have put together a squad of players who have played for a variety of teams in the Manchester Softball League in Divisions 1 and 2, for our first season in the competition. We want the squad to gel quickly and to consolidate our position in the competition. Meerkats had a very good season last year, only just missing out on promotion, which gives us something to aim for as a first-time team from Manchester. But since we are playing as a team for the first time on 20-21 May, we will be very satisfied with playing competitive and enjoyable softball.”

“Tempest 2 is a great way to involve MSL players that want to test themselves against good teams from around the country, but whose regular league teams – for a variety of reasons – do not enter the national events generally held in Farnham Royal.  One thing that is new for this season is a striking new jersey, designed by our players Dave and George in conjunction with the Baseball Outlet. We’ll look forward to our kit reveal at 9am on 20 May.”

They go on to describe the NSL experience and what makes it great.

“It’s always good to play at the country’s premier purpose-built baseball and softball facility, with its four (soon to be five) fenced fields and dirt diamonds.”
Andrew Bogie , Tempest 2

“All tournaments have specific differing levels of competition, and the NSL structure is simply the higher echelons of UK co-ed slow pitch softball. As such, there are a few differences, like much tighter uniform rules: we all have to wear the same jersey and the same colour of legwear (amusingly, the guidelines particularly note – correctly – that black and navy blue are two different colours). Also, the league is contested over three weekends of round-robins; each individual tournament’s final stages decide the weekend competition, but do not affect league standings. Other than these slight differences, the playing experience is quite similar to other softball weekenders, such as the MSL’s own tournaments in April and July/August. They are great for getting to know more people and playing with and against people from elsewhere in the country that you normally wouldn’t come across.”

“The NSL perhaps has a better national spread than most tournaments. It’s always good to play at the country’s premier purpose-built baseball and softball facility, with its four (soon to be five) fenced fields and dirt diamonds. But as always, the best bit of any softball tournament is spending a weekend playing our sport and socializing with a great group of people on and off the field.”

NSL news, fixtures and results can be found at https://eurosoftball.org.

Note: The nature of NSL means that teams that originated in one area can move away from their origins as players come and go. The Greensox NSL team was originally Manchester based but is now a London affair. The Tigers NSL team is a Bristol based team with no links to our own Tigers in Manchester.

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