Canadian women's softball team playing for a spot in Tokyo Olympics
Team Canada is hoping to punch their ticket to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo as they play in an Olympic qualifier this week in Surrey.
In July, the squad won gold at the annual Canada Cup in Surrey, and earlier this month they took home a silver medal from the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru. They lost a 3-1 decision to the number-one-ranked United States in the final.
"Happy overall with the performance, we would have liked to push it over the line, but we come away from it encouraged that we've made some of the strides that we intended to," said head coach Mark Smith of the team's Pan Am success. "The season has put us in a position we want to be in coming to this event."
The team has home field advantage, with seven of the players from B.C.
“This is home for us and has been for as long as the national team has existed since 2016 when the worlds were held," Smith said. "Our athletes have become very comfortable playing here and the last two Canada Cups we’ve had some success so there is a lot of positive memories here."
Canada’s team is a mix of veterans and youth. Pitcher Danielle Lawrie, who was on the 2008 Team Canada in Beijing -- the last time softball was in the Olympics -- says this team has worked hard to get here.
“I love the different age groups," Lawrie said. "Back in the day I was the young one: 21 at the Olympics in '08 and here I am 32 and I love we have the veteran experience that have been there. I also love the young ones. I just love being around them, so happy all the time. It’s almost as if they don’t have a care in the world.”
“They're mature women that have 5 or 6 years of international experience under their belts and some success," Smith said. "Even our younger players are stepping up and playing very well and consistently at this level and we are getting the same from the veteran players.”
Pitcher Sara Groenewegen, who has been stellar on the mound this year, says the team is prepared and the players all have a level of trust amongst each other.
“There is a core group of us that have been on the team since 2013 and we’ve grown up together," Groenewegen said. "I think that one of the coolest parts of this team, that group of us, we’ve been through it all together. There’s been ups and downs, there’s been triumphs and losses, but to go through it all together is pretty special."
Canada comes into the tournament ranked No. 3 in the world. Canada is the top-ranked team heading into the Olympic qualifiers and is grouped with Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guatemala, Argentina and Bahamas for the preliminary round.
The other group includes Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Peru and the British Virgin Islands. Canada's first game is against Cuba on Sunday. The tournament runs through Sept. 1, with the top two teams qualifying for the Olympics.