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Meet Ava Papaleo. Some Experts Believe She May Be the Top Prospect for the 2026 Class

Rhode Island (RI) Thunder Fastpitch Organization:

Name: Ava Papaleo Grad Year: 2026

Hometown: Yonkers, NY

High School: The Ursuline School

Travel Team: RI Thunder Gold 14u National - Lotti

Coaches: Holly Kathios, Manny Moitoso & Dave Lotti

Positions: OF/3B

Height: 5’ 5”

Bats/Throw: Right/Right

GPA: 4.0

Overhand Throw Velocity: 66

Exit Velocity off Tee: 77

Twitter: @avapapaleo

Instagram: @avapapaleo2026

Who are you?

I am Ava Papaleo, attending The Ursuline School. I live in Yonkers, NY, and softball is a huge part of my life. Out of all the different sports I played when I was younger, softball always stood out. This sport has filled me with excitement and I am truly blessed that I can play it.

The Ursuline School Varsity Softball 2022 - League Champions

How did you start playing softball?

My sister and brother played both softball and baseball so I was on the field for basically my whole life. Watching my siblings both play was when I realized I loved the sport. When I stepped on the field from a young age it brought me such happiness and joy. Ever since I was little I could tell that this sport and all that it offers was for me.

Why do you play softball?

I play softball because of my unconditional love for the sport. I truly love everything that this sport has to offer. One thing that makes softball stand out to me is the amazing team atmosphere that it has. No matter what, I know that my team will have my back and I will have theirs.

Ava and her RI Thunder Gold National 14U - National Team

You’re an elite prospect that has garnered national attention and rankings. How and why is this?

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback about my swing, hitting, and overall game approach. I believe my work ethic and positive attitude has helped me gain some attention as well.

What achievements and examples can you share to give proof that you truly are one of the best prospects in the nation?

My past year has been very exciting! In January 2021, while still in the 7th grade, I was asked to join the Birmingham Thunderbolts Premier - Thompson 2026 team. When I played with the Bolts I had an awesome experience both with the team and coaches. We played a national schedule, and placed 1st through 3rd in many top tournaments. I feel like I had adjusted well, and I definitely learned a lot from the experience.

For the Fall, I joined the RI Thunder Gold 14u National - Lotti. We played 18u - 14u top showcases. Between both teams, I played in over 10 states (Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arizona, California etc). Currently, I’m ranked 4th by Extra Innings Softball. I was a 2022 USSSA Direct Select 30 recipient and 2021 Softball Factory "Preseason All-American". I have topped 77mph exit velocity off the tee. But more importantly, I’ve been consistently working on raising my exit velocity average which has been in the low 70s.

“Ava is a player whom we picked up this past fall and she is someone who I personally have been following on social media prior to us reaching out after the 2021 summer. What caught my eye right away was how powerful of swing she has for someone as young as she is. I'm in my 24th year coaching and she will end being one of the organizations best hitters by the time she's done here. Should she continue on this path she will no doubt be a top prospect for any Division 1 Power 5 school.” -- Dave Lotti, Owner/Coach - RI Thunder National

As far as being one of the best prospects, I realize I have a lot of work ahead of me and that distinction would have to be decided by my coaches, teammates, and hopefully college coaches down the road.

What do we need to know about your hitting?

I feel that I’m developing into a good consistent mental hitter. I want to win every at-bat. When I played for the Bolts in 48 AB I batted .396/500 OB 1125 OPS I batted .500 with RISP, 2 HR, 14 RBIs, and 24 Runs scored. I was injured last July but came back stronger in the Fall, where I batted 3rd in the order for the Thunder and led the team with a .416 BA .518 OBP and 12 BB. I had a 1297 OPS with 6 HRS, 20 RBIs, and 30 runs scored.

This spring I played HS Varsity as an 8th grader and we made it to Sectional semi-finals. In 21 games I had a .500 BA, .566 OBP, .924 SLG, 33 Hits, 13 Doubles, 5 HR, 24 RBI with 16 stolen bases. I was named "All League", "All Section", and "Offensive Player Player of the Year".

What do you do mentally before approaching the batter's box?

Before approaching the batter's box for the first time during a game I have already experienced a few at-bats. This is because when I am three batters away I watch pitches, location, and counts.

When I am in the hole, I try to visualize the pitcher throwing to me and when I am on-deck I am focused on my timing.

Finally, when I walk up to the plate I am fully confident in myself and my swing. As I step into the batter's box my focus is completely on the pitcher. This was taught to me by my trainer and it works for me.

Ava at the Arizona Classic

What is your greatest strength?

My greatest strength is my ability to adjust in the face of adversity. Traveling throughout the country for softball can exciting but also challenging. I personally feel I am able to overcome whatever that may come my way.

Why should coaches recruit you?

I'm a team player and will do whatever is needed to help my team. I’m a student-athlete and I feel I have the potential, work ethic, and determination to be the very best.

"After coaching at the collegiate level and the 18U National level, I can say with confidence that Ava is one of the best all-around hitters I have coached. She consistently hits the ball hard with tremendous power. As the level of pitching gets better, so does Ava’s level of play. She rises to the occasion and leads by example for her teammates. She is a team-centered player, always wanting to motivate and encourage her teammates. Ava is continuing to improve on her range in the outfield and has made great gains in the off-season working on her arm strength. She will be a key contributor on our team this coming summer and will, without a doubt, be a great recruit for any college program lucky enough to have her. Her skill set and potential poise her to be able to play at a high caliber school. She will turn many heads this summer as an eighth grader and will continue to do so as she continues to develop as she enters high school". -- Holly Kathios, Head Coach, RI Thunder Gold 14u National-Lotti

Volunteer Assistant Coach, Barry University-FLA

Ava at Section 1 dinner and named “All Section”, “All League” & “Offensive Player of the Year

How would your teammates describe you?

My teammates would describe me as an outgoing player who is always smiling and has a positive attitude. I love to make my teammates laugh and we have so much fun together. I believe they would see me as super supportive and my team knows that I will be there for them no matter what.

My opposition would describe me as a fierce competitor.

"Ava is the ideal teammate, she is always in a good mood and stays upbeat for our team. Ava just destroys the ball and has a great approach at the plate. She runs the bases like no other girl and has a very high IQ for this game. She either bats before or after me in the lineup and pitchers can’t pitch around her. Ava is just known to be a stud and I’m so grateful she is my teammate because she keeps us smiling"! -- Phoenyx Silva #7 (2025 L&LS Elite Top 50 Prospect) RI Thunder Gold 14u National -Lotti

Ava with teammate Phoenyx Silva

What are your softball goals and dreams?

One of my softball goals is to be able to make a name for myself coming out of New York. I want to play at a top D1 school and play in the Women's College World Series (WCWS). I also would like to one day help other girls with their softball goals.

What are you doing to achieve your dreams?

This past Fall I practiced with my team coached by Dave Lotti, Holly Kathios, and Manny Moitoso who are truly great coaches. I would travel (about 3.5 hours by car) to Boston and practice from August through September, 4 hrs on Saturday then stay over and 4 hrs on Sunday. I feel this really helped my Fall season. This past December, I started a 6 day a week and 3 plus hours a day training at Athletes Warehouse which is comprised of Softball Strength Academy and Velocity U.

Under the guidance of my trainer Cassie Boccia Reilly, I do core training, speed, arm velo and hitting. I played high school varsity this spring. My travel team has a great schedule this Summer and I plan on attending a bunch of college camps as well. I am determined to do whatever I possibly can to achieve my dreams.

Who is your greatest influence or role model and why?

My greatest influence is my trainer/hitting coach Cassie Reilly Boccia. Cassie played softball at the University of Alabama and won the WCWS in 2012. She is a determined person who I can relate to. What's even better about Cassie is her amazing personality. Cassie teaches me something new every day and inspires me in so many ways. She strives to make each day better than the one before and her positive attitude attracts all people. Cassie lifts up others and is one of the most caring people I have met. I am so proud and lucky I get to call Cassie my role model and mentor, there’s no one else like her.

"Of the 900+ athletes that attend Athletes Warehouse each week, there are none as talented and skilled as Ava Papaleo. Ava is an exciting prospect as she is only 14 years old and already possesses physical skill, athletic development, and mental performance of that of a Division 1 athlete. As someone who has witnessed what it takes to play at the highest level in softball, it is obvious that although Ava’s swing may set her apart now, it is her disciplined commitment to excellence that will continue to set her apart in her career. Many players can exude great talent but few can consistently produce under pressure and on a consistent basis as Ava does. This is largely due to her unwavering commitment to aspects of the game such as mental performance, weight training, sprint speed, and nutrition. With exit velocities already topping 77 mph off the bat, she will soon be a name cemented in the softball world as one of the best to ever come out of the northeast.” Cassie Reilly-Boccia, MA, CSCS, TPI Owner Athletes Warehouse/Softball Strength Academy Sports Performance Specialist/Hitting Instructor University Of Alabama -Softball-3x SEC Champion-2012 WCWS NYS Softball Hall of Fame

Cassie Reilly-Boccia

If you could spend a day with any softball player or coach (past or present) who would it be and why?

I would want to spend a day with Chelsea Goodacre because when I met her at the Select 30 I loved her attitude and her perspective on different things. During one of the group talking sessions, she mentioned how “pressure is a privilege” and I thought this was super cool. She is determined and has a great mindset, I would love to get to know her more.

What do you look for when choosing a college?

Academics would be the most important thing for me. Ultimately if I am fortunate enough, I would want a combination of high academics and the highest level of softball.

Ava graduating from 8th Grade with the President's Award for academic excellence

Describe your ideal softball team. My ideal softball team is the one I am currently playing on right now, RI Thunder Gold 14u National Lotti. My team atmosphere is amazing, we all support each other and lift each other up. I feel we are all focused and there's no time for drama. We all truly love playing and will push each other to be the best we can. My coaches Dave Lotti, Holly and Manny look out for their players, helping and pushing them. They are so supportive and make sure that we are constantly learning. With them behind me I know I am one step closer to accomplishing my dreams.

Greatest softball memory?

My greatest softball memory is running up the stairs during the 2021 WCWS game when Alabama played Florida State this past spring in Oklahoma City. Coming from New York I had never been to the WCWS and as I entered the stadium I was amazed. It was so much better than any Yankee game I have been to! I had come straight from my softball game and was only able to see 2 innings but every moment was worth it. As soon as I saw the teams playing and the crowd cheering, I knew that someday, I would want to play in that stadium.

Who would you like to recognize and/or thank for your amazing softball success? I want to thank my parents and my siblings for all their support and guidance. My dad has spent so many hours helping me become the player I am now. From breaking down my swing with me to driving me to train/practice every day. I am forever grateful for the time he invests in me. My mom gives me great advice and puts time in helping my dad with all the travel affairs. Both my brother and sister are always there encouraging and inspiring me. I also want to thank Chris Vasami who was my first hitting coach and trainer. He moved to North Carolina, but is always in touch with me and has great advice about all aspects of the game.

Ava at the NC State Hitting camp in December where she met up with players Angie Rizzi and Logan Morris and saw the campus

Please tell us about your family. My dad is a retired Police Sergeant and current Home Builder/Contractor. He competed in bodybuilding as a teenager and was the NPC 1986 Teenage Light Heavyweight National Champion. My mom was always athletic and loves working out. My sister, Tori, is a junior at Middlebury College and is on the softball team. My brother, Michael, played baseball at Union College where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. Currently, he’s a first-year law student at Tulane Law School where he is studying sports law.

Ava and her beautiful family

Additional Information About Ava Papaleo: Favorite Movie: The Hunger Games Walk up Song: Power - Kanye West Favorite Book: Finished It: A Team's Journey to Winning It All Favorite TV Show: The Vampire Diaries Favorite Sports Team: NY Yankees Favorite Pro Athlete: Aaron Judge Interesting Fact About You: I’m the great-grandniece of the former Hall of fame-World Featherweight Boxing Champion Willie “Pep” (Guglielmo Papaleo). Other interesting information about Ava: I’m attending the Ursuline school (6-12) and will play varsity this spring as an 8th grader. I'm involved in volunteer service work at my school which helps different parts of the community like homelessness and the less fortunate. My high school has had some notable past top players including recent-NC state graduate, Angie Rizzi - the NFCA Division 1 All-Region Team outfielder for 2021. I have a 4.0 GPA and I'm in Honors classes and a member of the National Juniors Honors Society. I’ve played volleyball and basketball in middle school. The homerun I hit in the Arizona Classic was against Jennie Finch's niece - Malaya Majam-Finch the 2021 #1 ranked player in the class 2026. In just over a year, I have had over 75 Division 1 coaches following me between Instagram and Twitter, with 40 of those from Power 5 schools - Including Coach Murphy from Alabama, Coach Young from Duke, Coach Weekly from Tennessee, and coaches from Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Missouri, Northwestern, Texas, Arizona, Arizona State, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Mississippi State, etc. , I realized that I’m blessed to be surrounded by such a great group of people!

Thank you so much for interviewing me!:-)

Ava Papaleo, 2026, OF/3B, RI Thunder Gold National - Lotti

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