2015 RHP, Zack Helsel, breathed a sigh of relief after he called recruiting coordinator, Jason Murray, and gave him the news that he would accept a scholarship to play for Liberty University. “It felt so great to make that call. I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve busted my butt to put myself in this position and it feels really good”. Helsel, whose older brother, Christian, was a highly recruited player in the USA Elite organization, says his journey is very different than his brother’s. “Christian had lots of offers early. I had to wait a lot longer for mine”.
Helsel’s journey was anything but easy or early. After working all winter long during the 2013 off season to put on muscle, Helsel was injured in a collision with a teammate at the first event of the summer in 2013. He broke his jaw, his collarbone and had a concussion. He missed all of that summer and some of the fall before returning to play in October. Unfortunately, the setback caused him to lose nearly all of the muscle he had gained during the off season. “At my lowest I was 137 lbs. My jaw was wired shut so I couldn’t eat anything”. When he finally returned to full strength in late fall/2013 he knew he had no time to waste. He credits USA Elite Pitching Coordinator, Brian Murtha, with giving him a workout plan to add strength and muscle. “Coach Murtha did the research. He gave me the workout and the encouragement. At first it was super difficult. I was so weak”, explained Helsel. “But, my body started really changing and I think I became obsessed with working out. I just love the way it feels to put on muscle”. The results followed soon thereafter. Helsel jumped up to 190 lbs and added 10 mph to his fastball (85-86). He then earned the top score in the organization’s athletic testing combine out of 185 athletes in the USA Elite organization.
USA Elite Director, Mark Helsel, father of Zack, knows his son’s story well. “I’ve really enjoyed watching him develop. He created a great story. It’s all about desire. It was almost like a lightbulb went off and he said I’m tired of being the skinny little brother of Christian Helsel. He got after it and I’m obviously very proud of him. His story should be a great inspiration to our younger players. Very few people would have projected him to be a D1 pitcher even a year ago. But, to his credit, he focused on the right stuff and he’s getting what he deserves now”.
Helsel has had a productive summer pitching for the USA Elite 2015 Red team. He is a side arm specialist pitcher that gives hitters fits. “I enjoy pitching, especially side arm. Hitters complain about having to hit off me.
That’s funny”. He has only given up 3 earned runs all summer. HIs dad thinks it’s a good style for him. “He just started doing it one day. It took him awhile to get a feel for it, but I think he has a knack for it. His ball moves a lot and he also throws a late breaking slider from two arm slots. Alot of college coaches are looking for something different and he definitely has a different look”.
When asked why he chose Liberty, Helsel, had the answers. “First and foremost, it’s a Christian school and my faith is very important to me. I visited there and the players were great. They prayed together after practice. I loved that. Obviously, Liberty’s new 20 million dollar stadium will be a great place to play. The coaches also showed alot of interest in me. They came and watched me pitched three times this summer. From the start they made me feel very comfortable. Coach Quinn (pitching coach) was also a side armer like me, so he’ll be able to give me some great instruction. It’s far enough south to feel southern, but not too far away from home that I have to fly. It’s just the perfect place for me and I can’t wait to get there”. Liberty., located in Lynchburg, VA, just won the Big South Conference championship for a second year in a row finishing with a 23-3 conference record and 41-18 overall. They played in the UVA regional.
Is nationally respected and consistently ranked as one of the top organizations in the country
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The entire USA Elite Baseball organization was deeply saddened when they lost one of their own. Dylan Crunick passed away on Jan. 26th, 2014 after a courageous battle with cancer. Dylan was a friend to all and played with the 2017 grads for a number of years. He was a talented player and a great teammate.
This summer and fall the entire USA Elite organization is wearing a star that says DC8 on their cap. It’s a humbling reminder to everyone that playing baseball, and life in general, is not a given, it’s a blessing. Director, Mark Helsel, wants his organization to keep things in perspective, “We’re playing for Dylan. He played the game the right way. He gave it everything he had all the time. He never took a play off. I feel like our players are learning a valuable life lesson here and that is to play for something bigger than themselves. Honestly, there is so much of an “entitlement” attitude in this travel baseball world. Alot of kids start thinking its all about them. Parents get crazy with stats, lineups, playing time, second guessing coaches. We see it everywhere we play. I feel like our organization really understands this principle. We have very few issues and I think it’s because we talk about this stuff all the time. We try to never lose perspective. If we notice players or parents who seem to be focused on just themselves we’re not bashful about reminding them what this is really all about”.
Cameron Van Hoorebeke played with Dylan and he says Dylan left an indelible mark on him. “I think about him every day. I think about how much he would love to be here with us. I think about what a blessing it is that we get to do this, and that our parents are here to watch us play. It’s humbling, but it’s what Dylan would have wanted. I know he’s proud of us”. Connor Larkin, who also played with Dylan summed it up simply. "Just watch us play and you'll know that nobody here is just playing for themselves".
2015 Class Will Leave its Mark on USA Elite Baseball
by posted 06/24/2014
USA Elite Baseball Director, Mark Helsel, says a group of 2015 grads will leave an indelible mark on his program when they finish up this fall. Helsel believes his 2015 class may be the most successful class he’s ever had. “Each season we say good-bye to great players who are moving on to college, but this 2015 class is extra special because many of them have been with the program since they were 13 years old. Each of them have their own special story. “I remember meeting Eli Nabholz (Penn State commit) and Travis Blankenhorn (Kentucky commit) when we played against their team in a championship game when they were 13 years old. Shortly thereafter they were playing for us and both have had amazing careers in our program. I can still see Brett Kinneman (NC State commit) showing up at one of our tryouts in York as a 14U player and thinking, holy cow, that kid can really hit. Connor Klemann (Penn State commit) played in our summer developmental league when he was 14 years old and that next fall he was playing on our top team and doing well against D1 commits. Same with Culver Hughes (Virginia Tech commit). He came to a tiny little tryout we had in Philadelphia and I remember thinking this kid is going to be a high draft pick out of high school. It’s just amazing how fast the time goes”.
Helsel believes a combination of talent, hard work and a good plan are the reasons for the success of his players. “First off, these kids were very talented. I don’t think any of them were way off when they came to us. But, talent alone is not enough. These kids busted their butts to get this good. He also notes that they were able to endure some “tough love” along the way. “They are not prima donnas. We’ve been honest with them all along. All of them had holes in their game. Again, to their credit, they did something about it”.
Ryan Sloniger (Penn State commit) remembers Helsel coming to his house and talking to his parents about him playing in his organization. “He was very emphatic. You could tell he believed in what he was doing. He said if I played in his organization I would get a scholarship. We believed him and I did”.
The success these players have had has been incredible. Kyle Datres (UNC commit) and Luke Glavin (Duke commit) just lead their high school team (Loyalsock) to a second consecutive state title. Many of the players had scholarships before their junior years in high school. “Kids in our organization are going to get exposure. I tell them they need to be like zoo animals and get used to people looking at them. I’m not afraid to put my name on the line for these kids because they have earned that respect”. Nabholz, Kinneman and Blankenhorn just finished playing at the Tournament of Stars (TOS) held by USA Baseball. Many others got invited to Area Code tryouts and East Coast Pro tryouts. Several feel they have a very good chance to make one, or both of those teams.
John Nabholz, believes Mark’s organization helped lay a foundation that served his son, and the other players well. “Mark grooms these kids for success, even beyond baseball. He never stops talking about what it really means to be successful. It’s never only about results with him, it’s about the process and the journey. He pays attention to the little details that make such a huge difference. I’ve seen him shake a kid’s hand and say, “squeeze my hand and look me in the eyes, now that’s a man’s handshake”. As a parent I liked that Mark supported and reinforced the values that my wife and I have taught Eli. I see some of the opportunities Eli has gotten this past year and it’s humbling. But, more importantly, I see how he has handled them and, as a dad, I just smile. He has a foundation for the success he’s having”.
Many of the players who have been with Helsel the longest will finish their careers this summer and fall playing under the team name Chandler Baseball, the name his organization went by prior to changing over to USA Elite Baseball. “For this one particular group it was much easier to just continue playing under that name. It doesn’t matter to me at all what color jersey they are wearing. What matters is that they continue to improve as players and as people, and I know this group of players will do that. I could not be more proud of them. They will be great examples and role models for our younger players. Ryan has already offered to speak at our banquet and share some wisdom with our younger players Thats just the kind of kids they are”.
Eric Mock is a big, strong, hard throwing RHP. It only took three weeks in the USA Elite Baseball summer program for Mock to get the exposure he needed and deserved to get a scholarship to play D1 baseball. Mock recently gave Penn State the good news that he would turn down other offers, including several from the ACC, to play for Rob Cooper’s Nittany Lions. “It feels so good to get this decision behind me. I was already getting a little overwhelmed with the whole process so I can honestly say I’m very relieved”.
USA Elite Baseball Director, Mark Helsel, is not surprised at how fast the recruiting process sped up for Mock. “I’d love to tell you that we developed this kid, but we simply recruited him in to our program. Sometimes it’s just a matter of bringing a kid in to our program and putting him in front of the college coaches. He’s only pitched in 3 events with us (Scout Day, JMU and Cincy Flames tournament). He is very easy to like. That’s why he decided to play with our organization. We just opened doors for him. He did the rest”.
Mock says Penn State is the perfect fit for him. “Coach Cooper and his staff are turning the program around fast. I could have gone to a more established program, but I actually like the idea of being a part of something special. Obviously, the academics are world class, and its close home. It’s perfect’. Mock also wanted to give credit to the USA Elite Program. “Nobody in the state of PA works harder for their players or has the connections to college coaches like USA Elite Baseball. I want to thank Coach Helsel and Coach Strange for believing in me”.
Chad Luensmann began playing in the USA Elite organization when he was 13 years old. Perhaps Chad knew he would someday get a baseball scholarship to a D1 school, but few others probably would have projected him as one of the top 2015 grad pitchers in Pennsylvania and a future Nebraska Cornhusker. Even USA Elite Baseball Director, Mark Helsel, is amazed at the development of Luensmann. “In one sense, it’s somewhat surprising, but in another, it’s not at all. Chad has an incredible work ethic. Its been awesome to watch him stay the course and get a scholarship to Nebraska. If there was every a kid who deserved it, its Chad”.
Luensmann says the guidance and direction he got while playing for USA Elite Baseball made a big difference. “Coach Helsel is very honest and direct about what needs to be done to reach the highest levels. He told me early on that I had to get stronger. I was the typical tall lanky kid that wasn’t very strong. He also told me that I projected as a pitcher, and not as a position player. Initially, that was a little hard to hear, but once I embraced it I just focused on becoming the best pitcher I could be”.
Luensmann developed a plus change up to go along with his mid to upper 80’s FB. He also grew to 6’4” and is up to 200 lbs and was always among the top scorers in the athletic testing combine. “He began getting attention from college coaches at the Perfect Game event in Ft. Myers when he was a sophomore. “They liked his physique, his calm demeanor and his plus change. They could easily see what he could become”, said Helsel.
Luensmann says he visited Nebraska and knew it was the place for him. He turned down several other D1 offers from schools closer to home. “They have a great engineering program and that’s very important to me (Luensmann has 4.0 GPA) and their baseball program is outstanding. I really connected with their coaches”.
USA Elite Players Leading Schools to State Championships
by posted 06/06/2014
A record (13) USA Elite players are still helping their teams advance in the Pennsylvania state championship tournament for high school baseball players. Director, Mark Helsel said his players are leading their teams. “We recruit winners to our program so it’s not surprising that these players are helping their teams win. That’s what winners do. They are great kids and they play the game the right way. They are leaders on their teams and we couldn’t be more proud of them”.
13 USA Elite players will play on Tuesday in the state semi finals after helping their teams win their quarter final game.
(1-4) Spring Ford vs (12-1) LaSalle College
Connor Kleman and Connor Larkin both play for Spring-Ford
(1-2) Harriton vs (10-1) Erie Cathedral Prep
Carter Cross, Austin Braendel, Owen Means and Holden Stevanus all play for Erie Cathedral Prep
(12-1) Neumann-Goretti vs (4-1) Loyalsock (defending state champs)
Vinny Vaccone and Nick D’Amore play for Neumann-Goretti
Kyle Datres and Luke Glavin play for Loyalsock
(10-2) Northwestern vs (6-1) vs Central Martinsburg
Nick Hoenstine plays for Central Martinsburg and Dave Hoenstine (Coach of USA Elite 2015’s Blue) coaches for Central Martinsburg
(1-1) Devon Prep vs (11-1) Schuylkill Haven
Nicholas Behm plays for Schuylkill Haven
(6-1) Bishop McCort vs (9-1) Elk County Catholic
Jeff Wehler plays for Elk County Catholic
In the quarterfinals several other USA Elite players saw their season end.
John Nabholz is the father of 17 year-old Eli Nabholz, who has been playing for Mark Helsel's organization since he was 12, and couldn't be happier about what his son has learned. Eli will graduate from Pottsville Area High School in 2015 and has settled on attending Pennsylvania State University once high school is over.
John first heard about the program while Eli was playing with another local travel team. Eli's team was facing off against one of Helsel's teams. Afterwards the coaches of the two teams spoke about possibly working together, which they eventually did.
"We went with Mark's organization because of the exposure. He knows the circuit and plays at the higher levels of competition for the kids to get better. The list of commitments over the years from this program is very impressive", John said.
"The program's networking connections and their commitment to helping the players become well rounded people sets the program apart from most" continued, John. He appreciate's the fact that Helsel is not afraid to be honest with players when it comes to development. "He'll tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. But, they know he has their best interests at heart".
John has nothing but kind words and praise for the program that Helsel has put together. "It's not all about baseball with Mark. The organization treats the kids with respect. Without Mark's guidance my son wouldn't be where he is now."
"I could write a book! Someday I will, but the story isn't over yet," say Maryann Brennan, mother of 17-year-old Jimmy Brennan. In an email interview she types, "As I sit and type this, my son is in the basement hitting soft toss balls into a net that we have set up so he can practice when it is cold out. He typically does this almost every night. When it gets warm out, he moves it outside to the full size batting cage in our backyard. That is after he did two and a half hours of practice with his school team today."
Maryann recognizes the time and effort that is needed to be a part of an elite level traveling team, as does Jimmy. Jimmy, who plays shortstop, works hard to hone his skills. During the off season and after practices Jimmy is dedicated to taking his game to another level.
The USA Elite program was the right fit for JImmy. There was a clear contrast between the traveling team Jimmy played on before entering into the USA Elite program. Maryann mentioned that the tournaments are better, are in nicer locations and against better players.
Skill building is not the only thing that Jimmy has been exposed to. He was given the opportunity to have Doug Strange, an ex-major league player, as his coach for a time. Strange, who has played for the Detroit Tigers in '89, the Chicago Cubs in '91, the Texas Rangers in '93 and several other teams, gave Jimmy sound advice and acted as a role model of sorts.
Seeing colleges while traveling were also a welcomed opportunity that was offered to Jimmy and his family. He played at many college fields, which was another opportunity for him to be scouted by college coaches.
Radford University offered a scholarship to Jimmy as did several other colleges. While he was receiving other offers Jimmy often asked Mark Helsel for guidance. Eventually Jimmy accepted the offer from Radford and will enroll in the fall of 2014.
"Mark served to be a great resource for Jimmy. Jimmy would frequently text or call him to ask his opinion. He also had great confidence in getting advice from Doug when he needed assistance with making choices."
Helsel and the team have served Jimmy in other ways. Maryann believes that Jimmy's overall ability to communicate effectively is because of the program.
"When I look back I do think that the program is worth every penny we put into it. For my son, it was well worth the effort. He got to play baseball at a much higher level and intensity than he would have had he played with other travel teams."
Lee Guetterman, Randy Tomlin, Mark Helsel and Brian Murtha
USA Elite Baseball Director, Mark Helsel, says expanding nationally is a natural progression for his organization. “We’ve been developing our model and our brand in Pennsylvania for over 8 years now. We started with one 12U team in 2005 and grew it from there. We’ve learned alot over the years and managed our growth carefully”. USA Elite has 11 teams (about 200 players) this summer and Helsel feels that is about the maximum his organization will be in PA. “The USA Elite Model in PA has been primarily for high school aged elite level players who want to play beyond high school. With that model we’ve been averaging about 25 D1 players per year”. However, Helsel says the organization could grow much larger in the next few years by expanding the model to other states and by adding a new component that is more geared for younger players. Helsel’s experience in business (he calls PB for Pre Baseball) has influenced the plans for his baseball organization. “My background is small business start-ups and business development. I’ve been a part of several sales organizations that grew from zero to over 10,000 customers in less than three years. I enjoy the thrill of navigating uncharted waters and growing something small in to something big. The key is to have a team of people who are also comfortable in that environment. Then, it just has to be managed properly. Fortunately, we have assembled a team of leaders who are committed to the plan. Our business infrastructure can handle rapid growth. We also have outstanding human and financial resources to duplicate our model in other states. I think above all, however, we have the desire, passion and experience to provide a valuable service for our families”.
Helsel (middle) with son’s Christian (left) and Zack who both played in the organization.
Helsel sees a huge and exciting opportunity for his organization to grow much larger in the next 3-5 years. With the addition of the newly formed United States Baseball Network (USBN) his mission is to unite like minded people across the country and expand the brand that he started in Pennsylvania. “Our brand is developing people and our niche is families and players who want more out of this experience than just baseball. That’s why we’re here. We love baseball and we want to play at the highest levels when we can. But, ultimately, everybody stops playing so the question we pose to our players is “who are you without baseball? It’s not a natural question for most young players to ask. But, by challenging them to think beyond baseball we have a real opportunity to impact them academically, socially, and even spiritually. Our players are learning that who you become in the process is actually the most important aspect. I can tell you that watching that process unfold is priceless”.
Helsel isn’t the only one who sees the opportunity to impact lives through baseball. Former MLB pitcher, Lee Guetterman, likes the model so much he decided to become the USBN state partner for Tennessee. “This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I love baseball and I helping kids. Baseball was such a huge part of my life for many, many years. I like the idea of helping these young players develop to their fullest abilities and at the same time, make an impact on them that will last much longer than baseball. From a business perspective, I really don’t have the business background to build and manage a large organization. So by joining the USBN I have all the support I need to build the Tennessee market”.
Randy Tomlin, who also pitched in the big leagues has joined the network as the State Partner for the state of Virginia. “I’m very excited about this. I met with Mark and he showed me the model. It’s very solid and well planned. The thing that stood out to me was that the majority of the administrative work will be done by his company, and I will spend most of my time doing the baseball side of things. That’s the only way I could take on something this big”.
Helsel says finding like minded individuals in other parts of the country has been fun. “We’re all so connected these days. Technology has made it possible to do things that years ago were much more difficult. I can be on a webinar or google hangouts with our guys all over the country and we can get a lot done and never leave our homes. Right now we have partners in 7 different states. We think we’ll get to about 12-15 states going in the next 3-5 years and then just focus on doing a great job in those states”.
Dean Hughes is the father of Culver Hughes, 16, who is a junior West Chester East high school.
"I think it's been an awesome experience," Hughes says about playing in the USA Elite Baseball program.
Culver has been playing for USA Elite for two and a half years and, according to his father, has learned a lot because of it. Throughout the program Culver has had exposure with coaches and scouts. He was given the opportunity to work with Doug Strange, an ex-major league, who taught him and other players further. "Doug taught them to play the right way, to hustle."
Not only has Culver's skills grown over time, but he also learned to communicate better. Dean notes that Culver has learned to interact and converse with adults more effectively.
Dean, who initially had talked to friends about traveling versus high school teams, committed to the program under the direction Mark Helsel, the director of USA Elite Baseball. team. The selling points for Dean and his family was Helsel's philosophy about the game, development, and exposure to colleges and coaches.
"Mark helped guide us through the processes, which is something we couldn't get from a high school," said Dean.
Dean and Culver have told friends about the program. "We hold Mark in very high regard and as a mentor. For us, this has been a phenomenal experience."
Culver has made a commitment to attend Virginia Tech after he graduates high school in 2015.
Saige Jenco, 19, a native to the central Pennsylvania area, played in the USA Elite organization. Now he is playing as an outfielder and leading Virginia Tech in several offensive catagories including BA (.343), OBP (.491) and SB (16/21).
"I chose Virginia Tech because it reminded me of home," Jenco said during a phone interview. Jenco is a proud Virginia Tech Hokie who is majoring in communications.
Before becoming a Hokie, Jenco played for Mark Helsel's team when he was 17 years old. It was on this team that Jenco that learned how to play baseball with skill and grace.
"Playing for Coach Helsel was a great idea. It got me ready for the next best thing. Playing for a high school team would not have taught me as much."
Aside from playing in the USA Elite organization, Jenco also played baseball for State College High School before graduating in 2012. Jenco earned varsity letters for three years, led his team in stolen bases and was named a preseason All-State Honorable Mention by ESPNHS while entering his senior year.
While playing for USA Elite Baseball Jenco gained lifelong friends while he sharpened his baseball skills. He has kept in contact with many of them. Many of them have received scholarships and now attend schools like the University of Mississippi, Florida State and the University of Connecticut.
"You practice with these guys six days out of the week, you quickly become good friends. We still laugh about old times when we talk".
For the current USA Elite players, and anyone who is looking forward to playing baseball in college, Jenco recommends relaxing and having fun. He also gave a tip for the younger players, "People are always watching so hustle, don't drag your feet and have fun. Coaches and scouts can tell when you're not."
USA Elite Welcomes Former Cincinnati Reds Player, Dave Hoenstine
by posted 04/22/2014
Dave Hoenstine has been hired to join the USA Elite Baseball coaching staff for this summer. Hoenstine, who played professionally for the Cincinnati Reds organization in the late 70’s and early 80’s will coach the 2015 National team (Blue). “I’m very excited about this, said Hoenstine. I love baseball and I enjoy working with the kids. I’ve been watching this organization (USA Elite) for a number of years and they do things the right way. I like the discipline and the structure the organization provides”.
USA Elite Director, Mark Helsel, is thrilled to have Hoenstine join the organization. “Dave is a class act. He was a very talented player from this area who got a chance to play professionally. He brings a lot of experience to our program. He’s a high school teacher and and he’s also a very successful high school baseball coach”. Hoenstine was on the coaching staff that lead the Central (Martinsburg) team to a state championship a few years ago. “Kids respond well to him” said Helsel. We’re really looking forward to having him work with our players”.
USA Elite’s Brandon Martorano has been in the national spotlight since a very young age. So, it comes as no surprise that he chose a school that is arguably one of the top college baseball programs in the country. Martorano recently committed the UNC to continue his baseball career and pursue a degree in Psychology. “In some ways this was an easy decision because I just love UNC. But in other ways it was very difficult, said the 2016 catcher from Marlboro, NJ. I visited alot of schools and they were all stellar. However, I have been a UNC fan since I was a little kid and it’s always been a dream of mine to be a Tar Heel”.
Martorano hopes to continue his successful ways when he gets to UNC. UNC has been to the college world series in the last few years more than any other school in the country. But, Martorano is no stranger to success. Last summer (2013) he was selected as one of the catchers for Team USA 15U that won the gold medal in the COPABE in Baranquilla, Columbia. “Playing on Team USA is the highlight of my career so far. The whole experience was just incredible. The selection process was so intense. Our team was obviously very good and it’s an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life”.
USA Elite Director, Mark Helsel thinks the future is very bright for the athletic young catcher. “He’s a super kid. He’s mature beyond his years. He’s a leader on the field and that’s what you want from your catcher. He had a lot of success before he came to our program so we can’t say we put him on the map. He is obviously a high profile player and we’re happy to have him in our program. Our 2016 National team that he plays is a very talented group. They will be fun to watch this summer”.
Martorano says its all about staying hungry and getting better. “I love the process of developing my game to a higher level. I enjoy practicing. It’s not work for me. I like playing with USA Elite Baseball because this organization stresses development. Regardless of how much success we’ve had, there is still room to improve. Nobody is satisfied. We all want to get better”.