Se­cur­ing Olympic spot lat­est test for soft­ball squad

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Gemma KARSTENS-SMITH

VAN­COU­VER — When Cana­dian soft­ball pitcher Danielle Lawrie hits the mound this week­end, she won’t be think­ing about what’s on the line.

The squad is com­pet­ing for a spot in next sum­mer’s Tokyo Games at a qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment in Sur­rey, B.C., start­ing on Sun­day, but Lawrie in­sists that ev­ery player is sim­ply fo­cused on the next game.

“Right now it’s just one day at a time and get ready to go to war,” said the right-handed vet­eran.

Lock­ing up an Olympic spot would mark a big mile­stone for the Cana­di­ans.

Soft­ball hasn’t been in­cluded in the Games since 2008 when Canada fin­ished fourth in Bei­jing. While the sport is in for Tokyo, soft­ball has al­ready been nixed from the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Dwelling on that, how­ever, would put ex­tra pressure on the team, said Lawrie, one of three women on Canada’s cur­rent ros­ter who also went to the Bei­jing Games.

“Pressure’s a priv­i­lege and we all know that. But at the end of the day, if I’m think­ing about this maybe be­ing the last Olympics for the next (eight) years, No. 1, I’m get­ting ahead of my­self and No. 2, I’m not putting my­self in a po­si­tion to be present in what I’m do­ing,” she said. “Right now, we need to qual­ify and that’s the only thing on my mind.”

It’s been a busy sum­mer for the Cana­di­ans, and one that’s put them in a strong po­si­tion head­ing into the qual­i­fiers.

The team moved to Mar­ion, Ill., ear­lier this year to play in the Na­tional Pro­fes­sional Fast­pitch league as the Cana­dian Wild and fin­ished the sea­son third with a 22-20-1 record.

In July, the squad won gold at the an­nual Canada Cup in Sur­rey and ear­lier this month they took home sil­ver from the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru af­ter drop­ping a 3-1 de­ci­sion to the No. 1-ranked U.S. in the gold medal matchup.

All that prepa­ra­tion has left the group feel­ing men­tally and phys­i­cally ready for the Olympic qual­i­fiers, said in­fielder Emma Entzminger.

“We’ve put count­less hours into prac­tis­ing, play­ing, rep­e­ti­tion af­ter rep­e­ti­tion. And our sport’s big on reps,” she said. “So I think go­ing into this tour­na­ment we’re as pre­pared as we can be.”

The trick now is re­main­ing con­sis­tent, said coach Mark Smith.

“We’ve worked re­ally hard to pre­pare for this par­tic­u­lar week,” he said. “Now it’s a case of not go­ing out and re­ally try­ing any harder or do­ing any­thing dif­fer­ently than we’ve done all sum­mer. If we can play within our­selves and do the things we’re ca­pa­ble of then we should be suc­cess­ful.”

At No. 3 in the world, Canada is the top-ranked team head­ing into the Olympic qual­i­fiers and is grouped with Puerto Rico (4), Cuba (17), Gu­atemala (18), Ar­gentina (25) and Ba­hamas (39) for the pre­lim­i­nary round.

The other group in­cludes Mex­ico (5), Brazil (14), Venezuela (16), Do­mini­can Repub­lic (19), Peru (20) and the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands (57).

The Cana­di­ans faced a num­ber of those squads at the Pan Ams ear­lier this month. Each time, the team was able to pre­server through a lot of tough chal­lenges, Entzminger said.

“We have a lot of depth on this team and we’ve played a lot of games this sum­mer. And we’ve kind of had to deal with a lot of fail­ures,” she said.

“I think we sent mes­sages in the Pan Ams of who we are and what we’re here to do so I think that’s good mov­ing for­ward to this tour­na­ment.”

The top two teams at the qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment will punch their tick­ets to Tokyo 2020.

Canada’s chances might look good on pa­per but rank­ings don’t mat­ter head­ing into an in­ter­na­tional event, Lawrie said.

“Any­one can beat any­one on a given day,” she said.

“So at the end of the day, I’m play­ing as though we’re the last­place team and people are com­ing and lit­er­ally try­ing to beat us all the time, like we have the big­gest tar­get on our back. And that’s how we have to play.”

Team Canada will play Cuba on Sun­day to kick­off the tour­na­ment.

CP PHOTO

Canada women’s na­tional soft­ball team pitcher Danielle Lawrie pitches dur­ing prac­tice at the 2018 Canada Cup In­ter­na­tional Soft­ball Cham­pi­onship in Sur­rey on Tues­day.

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