Things round into shape for women’s team
*Team Canada is ready to toll in Edmonton ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
Everything is coming together.
The Canadian women’s national team is competing in its fifth World Cup competition and everything seems to be falling into place. The tournament is on home soil in Edmonton, the team has been able to train together for the last few weeks, and they are more prepared than ever before.
It’s the best team that Kate Psota has been a part of, and she’s been on the roster for every World Cup tournament since the national team was formed in 2004.
“It’s different this time,” the right-hander said. “It’s really different. This is by far the best team that we’ve had. I think a lot of the girls have worked really hard…there’s a different vibe to it.
“I don’t know if it’s a combination of being back in Canada, so we’re comfortable with our surroundings and the food and that kind of stuff, but I think everyone has for sure worked really, really hard. I think it’s going to pay off this year.”
Team Canada’s field manager, Andre Lachance, believes that being the host country offers a distinct advantage to his team.
“Before we were travelling a lot, like when the World Cup was in Venezuela, Taiwan and Japan,” Lachance said. “Since this year we’re at home it gave us the opportunity, financially also, to be here for a longer time and prepare and do those type of things that we never had a chance to do before.
“This year we took the time to do it right and put all the energy in the right place and we’re kind of satisfied with the outcome so far.”
Lachance believes that the biggest challenge for the national squad will be in focusing on the task at hand. He is hoping that his influence will help the players not get too far ahead of themselves.
“It’s anybody’s tournament,” he said. “There’s no team here that’s going to be weak. Everybody’s at almost the same level so the big challenge is just to take it one day at a time, one game at a time, just looking at our opponent tonight and figuring out how we’re going to face the others tomorrow.
“Sometimes we spend too much time thinking about what’s going to happen in the next couple days and you forget to live in the present moment. That’s our objective here, to focus on one day at a time.”
Psota believes that the biggest challenge for the team will be in making strides offensively, an area that they have struggled with in the past. After taking down Chinese Taipei 12-2 in a mercy-rule enforced game on the first day of the tournament and beating Venezuela 14-2 in their second game by the same rule, Canada has already made strides in that department.
In her ninth year with Team Canada the veteran believes that she still has things to work on personally as well. The Burlington native’s biggest task will be concentrating more attention on herself than usual.
“I tend to really focus a lot on how other people are doing, just because that’s sort of my role on the team as a leader,” Psota said. “I try to make sure the rookies are doing okay and everyone else is okay. Sometimes I can get a bit distracted from how I’m doing personally. It’s not an easy job, but it’s an important job to make sure everyone else is feeling alright.
Psota is a natural-born leader, as is the only other five-time World Cup competitor on the team, Mississauga native Ashley Stephenson. Psota believes that they maintain a great balance between them, with Stephenson’s emphasis on the field and her own being behind the scenes.
“It’s an instinct that I have,” the 26-year-old said. “I can read my teammates fairy well. I can tell when they’re nervous. I can tell when something is bothering them and I go talk to them, even if it’s outside of baseball. I’m really good at picking up that kind of stuff.
“I think to have someone to do something like that on the team is equally important because if someone’s not mentally there, then it’s going to be really tough for our team to do well.”
The five-time World Cup coach believes that his long-time team members are a huge influence on the rest of his team and in their success.
“We had an activity with the team here where those veteran players shared their best moments and sometimes their most embarrassing moments at the World Cup,” Lachance said. “So the rookies could feel better about things that could happen during games, and to try to get the nervousness down a little bit.
“So we just spent an hour sharing those funny moments among each other. It’s very important to have those players share [their experiences] that have come since 2004.”
With eight rookie players on the roster, experience is a huge asset. But the newcomers have already made an impression on their teammates and their coach. Lachance named 20-year-old Bradi Wall from Swift Current, Saskatchewan, as someone to watch for during the tournament.
“She’s our starting shortstop,” he said. “She was not with the team two years ago because of an injury but she’s here this year. She’s very good defensively. She’s stabilizing our defence big time, so it makes a huge difference in our team … she’s a good athlete, good player, good teammate and we’re really happy to have her on our team.”
Psota is excited that the roster currently includes a left-handed hurler, a rarity. The pitcher believes that the just-turned-17 Brinley McLaren from Brantford could be a standout in the competition.
“Every time she’s been on the mound she’s had so much confidence and poise,” Psota said. “If she’s nervous, she certainly doesn’t show it. It’s really important for us to have a left-handed pitcher this year, so it’s been a big plus for us. She’s pretty much the first left-handed pitcher we’ve found to help our team out so we’re really happy to have her.”
With the hometown crowd at every game, the talent of the team and the drive of this group of women in particular, the hope is that this could be a best-ever finish for the national squad, surpassing the silver they brought home in 2008.
One thing is for sure, according to Lachance. They will never give up.
“Whatever the score is, we’re going to fight until the umpire says game over,” he said. “We’ll never quit. These guys have shown it in the past also that whatever the score is, we’re going to battle hard. We have lots of people with dedication and they’ll fight until the end, whoever the opponent is. We’re going to be there until the last out is made.”