Expanded field for NFCA Kaiti Williams Memorial Leadoff Classic

PAPILLION, Neb. — Eight more teams will participate when the second edition of the NFCA Kaiti Williams Memorial Leadoff Classic hosted by Papillion-LaVista South High School takes place on Sept. 1-2 at the Papillion Landing Softball Complex.

This year’s event has expanded to 24 teams after a successful reimagining of a tournament that had been held for 16 years before being affiliated with the NFCA. It honors the memory of Williams, who starred at Papillion-LaVista South High and went on to a record-setting career at Division II Wayne State College before dying unexpectedly due to an irregular heartbeat in 2015 at just 22 years old.

Money raised at the tournament will benefit the Kaiti Williams Memorial Scholarship, which helps female graduates of Papillion-LaVista South High pursue higher education and athletics at the collegiate level.

“I’m very excited for the NFCA Kaiti Williams Memorial Leadoff Classic,” Papillion-LaVista South High head coach Tom Horton said. “Four states (Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado and Oklahoma)  will be represented in this year’s tournament. We are hoping to make this a fantastic high school event and continue to showcase the great talent we have here in Nebraska and all of the states that play high school fall softball.”

“(Defending champ) Gretna is returning and is ranked both in Nebraska and in the NFCA poll. This should be a strong and competitive tournament again this year.”

The Titans and Millard North High will once again host the tournament together. Teams will play two pool-play contests each on the first day to determine where they will compete on day two. The top teams in each bracket will be the ones in the mix for the tournament championship, while the second-place teams will vie for silver-bracket honors, and third-place finishers will meet in the bronze bracket.

Joining Gretna, Papillion-LaVista South and 2022 runner-up Millard North at the event will be Blair, Blue Springs South (Mo.), Elkhorn South, Grand Island, Gretna East,  Helias Catholic (Mo.), Legend (Colo.), Liberty (Mo.), Lincoln Pius X, Lincoln Northeast, Lincoln Southeast, Lincoln Southwest, Millard South, Millard West, Omaha Burke, Omaha Westview, Papillion-LaVista, Rock Ridge (Mo.), Roncalli, Silo (Okla.) and Valor Christian (Colo.).

Horton, who faced Williams when he was coaching at Bellevue East High, remembers a fierce competitor.

“She was an amazing player,” he said. “Competed hard in every game we ever faced her in.”

In fact, Williams was the first Titan athlete to earn 12 varsity letters during her high school career, collecting four each in softball, basketball, and track and field. She earned academic all-state honors in all three sports, and captained all three squads her final two seasons.

She was all-state in softball three seasons, was a starter on the first Titan girls basketball team to reach the state tournament, and qualified for states all four years as a thrower on the track team, earning five medals and fourth-place finishes in the shot put and discus her senior year. Williams carried a 3.95 grade-point average and was honored as the Runza/KPTM Scholar-Athlete of the Year for the state of Nebraska in 2010-11.

In college, Williams played every game for the Wildcats’ softball squad and earned all-conference honors all four years. She finished as the school-record holder in batting average, runs batted in, doubles and total bases, and graduated with honors.

Williams was posthumously inducted into the Wayne State Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018, and her No. 14 jersey is retired at the school.

Kaiti Williams, who starred in three sports at Papillion-LaVista South High and earned 12 varsity letters, died in 2015 at just 22 years old due to an irregular heartbeat. (Photo courtesy of NFCA)

Celebrating 40 years in 2023, the NFCA is the professional organization for fastpitch softball coaches. Known for its highly-regarded coaches polls and All-America awards, the NFCA also educates and supports softball coaches on a variety of different levels: from podcasts to awards, to in-person events and National Convention

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