Members of the travel team of women’s USA Softball pose for a photo before traveling to Cuba for the Copa Amistad tournament August 1-6. Back row, from left to right: Rebecca Ekart, El Monte, CA; Kaylee Carrillo, Tracey, CA; Victorie “Vic” León, Sylmar, CA; Annika Isaacson, San Diego, CA; and Olyvia Rutter, Arleta, CA. Front row, from left to right: Arden Miller, Newbury, CA; Savannah Gatewood, Valencia, CA; Isabella Slape, El Paso, TX; Sophia Marrero, Los Angeles, CA; and Gloria Galindo, Pacoima, CA. Not pictured: Katie Cunane, Powder Springs, GA CREDIT: Photo/Maria Luisa Torres

A group of 11 talented Latina athletes from as near as the Northeast San Fernando Valley, and as far as Powder Springs, Georgia, are representing women’s USA Softball competing in the third annual Copa Amistad, a softball tournament currently underway in Havana, Cuba, August 1-6.

The travel ball team playing in Cuba includes high school through college students, including SFV athletes Olyvia Rutter from Arleta and Gloria Galindo from Pacoima, who both attend Providence High School in Burbank. On the eve of their departure, team members spoke with the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol before a practice at Valley Park, where the talented athletes selected for the team met and played together for the very first time.

“This is the first time I’m going to Cuba with the USA softball team and I’m super excited,” said Rutter, 17, who is primary pitcher for the team and wears number 21. “We’re all just super happy that we’re able to take advantage of this opportunity.”

“I feel really blessed and honored that [I was] selected to play on this team, especially [because we are] going to go do something that we all love to do,” added 16-year-old Galindo, number 8, who plays second base. “It’s definitely going to be a humbling [and] super memorable experience.”

US participants in the Copa Amistad (which is Spanish for “friendship cup”) are playing against (and also with) top Cuban teams, which will be challenging. At the same time, it’s also a goal of the newly-revived tournament (which had been on hiatus since 2018) to exchange athletic skills and knowledge.

In Cuba, baseball is the national sport and declared a center for its cultural heritage, and is also significant in men’s and women’s softball. The Cuban women’s softball team won its second world cup in the sport last month in Valencia, Spain, and won the Gold medal in the ALBA games in Bolivia last April.   

 SFV native Victorie “Vic” León, 19, expressed gratitude and excitement about being selected for the coveted opportunity to play internationally and the rare chance to visit the island nation with its rich athletic history. She said she loved playing sports while growing up, especially softball. 

Members of the 11-member travel ball team of women’s USA Softball listen to their coaches during practice before traveling to Cuba for the third annual Copa Amistad August 1-6.
(Photo/Maria Luisa Torres)

“I started playing softball when I was about 11,” recalled León, who dons number 00 on her jersey and plays first and third base. “Then in high school (at Discovery Prep in Sylmar) I ended up doing four different sports – softball, basketball, soccer and volleyball – but I ended up sticking with softball into college.”

Thanks in part to that enduring dedication and discipline, León was offered academic and athletic scholarships to play on the softball team at Felician University in New Jersey, where she is a sophomore and a double major (in mathematics and education). Getting to travel abroad to play her favorite sport is the icing on the cake for her summer break.

The Cuba trip was made possible thanks to the ELLA Sports Foundation, a SFV-based nonprofit organization that provides guidance and resources to “help level the playing field” for Latina athletes of all ages, according to co-founder Lilly Travieso.

ELLA – which is Spanish for “she/her” – stands for Empowering Leadership in Latina Athletes. Their primary aim, she explained, is to help “break barriers” for Latina athletes and “develop tomorrow’s women leaders via sports and academic excellence.”

From Childhood Dreams to ELLA

Travieso, who currently plays softball as a junior at Cornell University, co-founded ELLA in 2019 with her mother, Patty Godoy, a nurse from Burbank. Her father “Coach Manny” Travieso, who serves as sports programs director for ELLA, gives full credit to the mother-daughter duo for bringing their combined vision for ELLA to fruition.

The birth of ELLA is inextricably linked to Travieso’s passion for sports – especially softball – dating back to her childhood. From a young age she dreamt of someday playing at a top university, she recalled. With unwavering resolve and the support of her parents, she made that dream a reality: she received an athletic scholarship for Cornell, which is a Division I Ivy League school, where she will be a junior this fall.

Unfortunately, she encountered many unexpected obstacles along the way, describing the journey as arduous – physically, academically and mentally. Those experiences planted the seed of what later sprouted the idea for ELLA. Her overall goal, she explained, was to help prepare Latina athletes for similar paths, from encouraging young girls to embrace sports – from elementary school through high school – to demystifying the recruiting, application and admissions processes for colleges/universities and athletic scholarships.

“My mom and I were discussing the challenges we faced during the journey, [from] cultural misconceptions and also financial inequalities, especially within the Latino community,” said Travieso, noting that one example she often encounters when speaking with female Latina athletes who are contemplating college is a reluctance to consider applying to out-of-state schools because they (or their families) want them to remain close to home or because they assume they would be unable to afford them. 

“We wanted [other young women] to have the same opportunities as me, to help empower them; we felt we needed to share this information,” she explained. Some of that information can be provided through athletic mentors, who can share their personal experiences and successes with younger athletes, to provide first-hand accounts about the range of opportunities actually available to them, so they won’t limit their options.

Enter ELLA, which provides not only athletic mentorship, but also educational conferences, leadership development, empowerment workshops, college recruitment guidance, training and access to coaches and unique opportunities like Copa Amistad.

“ELLA helps Latina and girl athletes in so many different ways, including cultural exchanges [like Copa Amistad], where they get to meet and play against peers from other countries,” said Coach Travieso before leaving for Cuba, where he is leading the team.

“I am proud to get to take this team to Cuba; not many teams can go to Cuba to play,” he said, adding that he was looking forward to having the travel ball team play against Cuba’s Junior National Olympic and National Olympic teams. “My mission is to work together with Cuba Deportes … not only on the field, but off the field as well.

“In sports, like the arts, you get a chance to kind of put politics aside,” he continued, spotlighting another lesson for ELLA athletes. “Sports can always help bridge gaps.”

“Coach Manny, his daughter, Lilly, and his wife, Patty, are amazing people, and I really love their organization and everything they’re doing for the community,” said León, who served as an ambassador for ELLA before going to college. “I’m really thankful for all that ELLA has given me.”

León’s mother, Araceli León, who is among the parents in Cuba with the team, echoed her daughter’s sentiments.

“ELLA has been a big part of her success,” she said. “ELLA [has helped] make my Latina athlete’s dreams come true.”

For more information about ELLA, go to:

2 replies on “SFV Latina Athletes in Cuba Competing in Friendship Softball Tournament”

  1. Awesome article! Thank you Coach Manny Travieso for putting this together. To the coaches, players, and family thanks for the ama ing unforgettable experience!

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