Fun in the sun
The Cougars softball team takes their talents to Hawaii
Article: Paige Kreutzwieser – Staff Writer
What would you do if your team had their best Westerns finish and medalled for the first time since 2010? Go celebrate – obviously.
That is what the U of R women’s softball team is doing. During the February break, 18 girls from the squad will be heading down south to Honolulu, Hawaii.
However, head coach Mike Smith said it’s not really about laying in the sun.
“It’s a great thing for our team chemistry, but then it’s competitive too.”
The team will be playing a total of eight games in the tropical state and is the only Canadian team attending during the week.
Although the team has travelled down to Hawaii before, that was in 2008. Their most recent trip was 2010 when the Cougars travelled to Texas. Third-year catcher Heather Becker was there for that.
“It will be different because when we went to Texas it was right after our regular season,” she said. “But now we have been off since mid October, so it has been three months and we are going from this cold weather to hot and we haven’t practiced outside. So it will be kind of a shock.”
But Becker doesn’t mind, even if the games don’t go always as planned.
“We are in Hawaii, there is no reason to be disappointed whatsoever,” she said. “Just look around, see the palm trees and we will be happy again.”
Becker’s attitude is not to say that the team hasn’t been putting in a solid effort to prepare.
“The goal is that we want to step on the field and be competitive,” explained Smith. “We’ve got 18 people since the beginning of January busting their butts and working really hard. Harder than any group I had in nine years.”
As with any student athlete, balancing practice and school can be a challenge. But Becker has enjoyed the tough schedule.
“I expected it to be a lot of training, it’s pretty overwhelming in school right now,” she said. “But it’s really nice because everyone else’s teams with CIS, they practice all year around and they get to see their teammates. With us we get close in the month and a half of our season and then we are all off on our own thing. It’s nice to have practices and see all the girls again. That’s my favourite part actually.”
Once their time in the sun is over, it’s back to the grind for the head coach, recruiting and planning for the softball club’s tenth season. But for Smith, who has always remained focused on giving women the opportunity to participate in competitive intercollegiate softball, his hard work with the squad is really paying off.
“We already have recruits that are committing to us now,” he said. “We are attracting and bringing kids to the U of R to play softball now, which is unreal.”
Smith admits that trying to persuade athletes to play at a university that doesn’t give them any scholarship funding can be difficult, but for someone like Becker, who is from Manitoba, knows the benefits to coming to a school like this.
“[The team] can only say come, but you’ll have to pay for everything. But the program is really good and I would say the school attracted me,” she said.
But for now the focus is all about Hawaii.
“It’s going to be intimidating probably because you play against people who wake up at six in the morning everyday to practice,” admitted Becker. “So it will be a higher level of ball, but I am excited.”
Smith agrees. “We are going to be playing teams where their players are all scholarship players, we have no scholarship players.”
But he has confidence in his girls, and is proud of what will come this break.
“For us to be competitive at that level shows you how far in nine years we have come.”