It took shoulder surgery to slow down Kelly Haller last fall. The time away from her myriad activities frustrated her.

"I didn't know what to do with myself," said Haller, now a junior at Heritage. "It was extremely stressful."

From volleyball, basketball and softball to student council, school choir and a spot on the Parent Teacher Student Organization, Haller is extremely busy all year long. In the summer, she is the captain of the Shamrocks 16-and-under softball team as a catcher and third baseman.

The Shamrocks are eyeing a national championship at the American Softball Association (ASA) national championships, which start Aug. 2 in Bloomington, Ind.

"It's a great team, and we have great coaches," Haller said. "I know I'm getting better at softball, and I'm getting a lot of exposure for playing in college, which is one of my goals."

Playing for Heritage this past spring, Haller batted .604 with 25 RBI. She has been an All-Extra, all-Dulles District and all-Region II selection each of her first two seasons in high school.

Shamrocks Coach Jim Brackin, a 1996 inductee to the ASA Hall of Fame as a player, said Haller's captaincy was earned both on and off the field. He noted as typical of Haller's play a booming home run she hit during a win over the Oklahoma Jammers in the championship game of the ASA National Hall of Fame Classic in Oklahoma City in July.

The Jammers "scored in the top of the first inning, and they're slapping high fives, cheering and yelling," Brackin said. "Then Kelly got up and crushed it, way out over the left field fence, totally quieted them. . . . Kelly is a very intelligent player and knows exactly what she needs to do for the team."

The Shamrocks have spent most of the season playing in 18-and-under tournaments, and finding a lot of success. In addition to the Oklahoma tournament, they won the 16-and-under ASA Metros and the 18-and-under Queen of the Hill tournament in Richmond.

Severna Park All-Met Kaila Jenkins and Park View junior Brittany Gardner, an All-Extra choice, lead the pitching staff.

"We've got excellent pitching, and our defense is very strong," Brackin said. "Our hitting has been big -- the girls are excellent clutch hitters. This is a very good team."

Shamrocks' Main Squeeze

As is the case most summers, the Shamrocks 18-and-under team has won a lot more than it has lost. But one particular victory in the past month stands out as especially meaningful.

At the Boulder, Colo., Invitational tournament, the Shamrocks defeated the Orange County (Calif.) Bat Busters, 1-0, thanks to Julie Myers's squeeze bunt that drove in Sarah Malene. It was the first time the Shamrocks had defeated the Bat Busters, Coach Tommy Orndorff said. Orange County topped the Shamrocks last summer on its way to winning the ASA Gold National tournament.

"We were excited," said right-handed pitcher Jenny Clohan (Broad Run). "But it was the last game of the day and we were tired, so we just went back to our hotel room and ate pizza."

Said Orndorff: "Offensively, we have played pretty well, although we would like to see more consistent hitting. Our pitching has been a pleasant surprise because in the beginning of the season [with three new pitchers] it was a concern, and now it's a strength."

The Shamrocks' core pitchers -- Megan Elliot, Clohan and Angela Tincher -- were all new to the 18-and-under squad this season. Orndorff said Clohan, like the rest of the pitching crew, has shown tremendous improvement.

"She definitely has the confidence and she has a great change-up," said Orndorff. "She has also improved her heat, her velocity and she is moving pitches around the plate."

Storm Ahead

Over the past few years, a core group of players has been integral to the Loudoun Valley softball team's successes, which included a Virginia AA championship in 2003 and a berth in the state semifinals this spring. The Vikings will be senior-laden this season, but if the unofficial feeder system is any indication, the program is in fine shape.

The Loudoun Storm, an under-14 team, features another talented collection of players that may well represent Loudoun Valley's softball future.

"We've got a pretty good group of talented girls," Storm Coach Jeff Beach said. "When these varsity girls graduate, basically the [junior varsity] team can step right in and fill the void and not really miss a beat."

The Storm was eliminated from the PONY National tournament in Loudoun County this past week, but not before posting five straight victories. The Storm's only losses came Friday, both by international tiebreakers in extra innings.

Pitcher Haley Athey, responsible for four of the team's wins, will attend Loudoun Valley if her family doesn't move this summer, Beach said. And third baseman Tiffany Beach and shortstop Sarah Spicer -- the daughter of Vikings Coach Joe Spicer -- have played beside each other so long "that they know what the other is going to do," Jeff Beach said.

Allie Bartok (Loudoun Valley), Megan Stejbach (Stone Bridge) and Michelle Puckli (Loudoun County) also have played key roles with the Storm.

Staff writer Drew vanEsselstyn contributed to this report.

Jim Brackin, a member of the ASA Hall of Fame, keeps his eye on the ball during drills with the 16-and-under Shamrocks.Heritage's Kelly Haller has rebounded from a shoulder injury this past fall to play well for the 16-and-under Shamrocks.