As North Mecklenburg graduate Aaron Spano was wrapping up his first year at Appalachian State, he was excited to come back home.
But Spano wasn't returning to Huntersville just to relax.
Spano is one of 29 college baseball players spending their summer playing for the Lake Norman Copperheads, a member of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League.
Spano said playing in a wooden-bat league near his family and friends was key in him deciding to play for the Copperheads.
"After my first year away at college, I definitely wanted to hang around home, so it worked out perfectly," he said.
Spano, a pitcher who redshirted for the Mountaineers last season, hopes playing for the Copperheads will help improve his chances of making an impact in Boone next year.
"It's a good opportunity to pitch against college hitters," he said. "It will at least give me a little more confidence."
Spano said control and limiting mental mistakes are essential to success on the mound against college talent.
The team, coached by former Pfeiffer assistant and Concord High head coach Derek Shoe, plays a 42-game schedule, calling Hopewell High's baseball field home during June and July.
Not all Copperheads play in the area to stay near home, as players from as far as Massachusetts and Texas have made the trip to North Carolina to work on their games.
"These guys need a place to play in the summer, and there's not a lot of places for them to play at this level," said Copperheads general manager Jeff Carter.
Carter said the Copperheads are able to attract talent from colleges as far as Rhode Island, Boston and Albany, N.Y., because they're part of the reputable SCBL, one of 10 leagues in the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball.
Having out-of-area players can be challenging at times, as Carter explains that the organization has to find them housing, usually from volunteer host families who have children in the Copperhead youth programs.
Spano, named All-MECA 7 as a junior under former Viking coach Mark King, said he's hosting one of his Appalachian teammates for the summer.
Carter said having local players on the Copperhead roster is important because they attract people to games - something he said the organization needs.
"We don't get a lot of exposure out here," he said. "A lot of people don't know about us."
Pitcher Hunter May, a Hopewell graduate, and several Charlotte-area residents also are playing for the Copperheads.
The summer college team got started eight years ago, when Huntersville-based Copperhead Sports, which runs several youth baseball travel teams, decided having a team in the SCBL would help the organization build relationships with college coaches and allow them to promote their youth players.
The team has grown to become a league contender, having won last year's SCBL title and being runners-up the two prior years.
Carter credits Shoe for the team's success, adding that his demeanor is perfect for the summer program.
"He's intense enough that he is competitive - he likes to win," said Carter. "But he's got the right mix between that and a laid-back style to let the players enjoy their summer."
Carter added that the approach is important when it comes to players dealing with pressure as they try to keep scholarships, win starting roles and perform academically while at school.
"A lot of them find the love of the game in the summer," said Carter.
"It's fun, but you don't get to this level - these college athletes - without being competitive, so as soon as they step on the field, all games are off and they're playing baseball. They're doing their best."
Spano said he's having a good time with the team.
"It's been a fun experience," said Spano. "Everybody on the team has a good attitude. ... I'm really glad I decided to play here."