|They may not have money, but they still have talent Photo courtesy of Mike Smith
Hosting the national championships, the Cougars women’s softball club has high expectations this season
Every team’s goal is to win a National championship, but when the tournament is in your own backyard, the drive for a medal is even greater.
After missing out on the National championships for the first time in the past four years last season, the University of Regina women’s softball club is anxious to get back into a top contender position.
Last season, the team graduated its two main pitchers and was admittedly immersed into a bit of a rebuilding year. Although the team did not finish as strongly as they did in 2010 –where they finished second to the University of Saskatchewan – head coach Mike Smith was still pleased with the young team’s progress.
“Actually it was a good year and lots of those first year players are back this year but we only have seven players coming back so were even younger than we were last year,” Smith said. “We recruited a couple of first-years that are really good and really strong. Last year we had a great year, but we just didn’t do very well at the playoffs. We lost two games against teams that we have never lost to [during the regular season].
“Last year was last year, but the season was still great. It was a development year for pitchers, and it will be again this year. [The players] are almost all first and second year university students. There are only five out of 20 that are not.”
While the team may have to deal with the trials and triumphs of having numerous rookies on the roster once again, Smith is confident that the team will continue to get better, especially on the mound.
“We have one returning pitcher, she was young last year, Stephanie Horsley, and she went home and worked all summer to get better. From what I have seen so far, she has done very well,” said Smith, who is returning for his eighth year with the squad. “We actually have six pitchers, so we have lots of them, but we don’t have a number one. We don’t have that big veteran pitcher. They are all first- and second-years.”
When asking a University coach what their goals are for the season, the response you will almost always hear is “we want to get to the playoffs, and then go from there. We believe we can win a National championship.” Of course, this statement will be made no matter how good or terrible the team is.
But, with the added pressure of playing hosts to Nationals – which are slated for Oct. 5-8 –, Smith believes that the team has the opportunity to have a very special season.
“Obviously you can say that you do not have an achievement goal, but we are hosting the National championships. We want to be competitive for a medal at Nationals, and that means you have to be top three,” Smith offered. “It will take us all year to get there. In previous years we were the favourites to win a medal going into the season, but this year it will take all year to get ready for that. Because we do have such young pitching, we won’t be the favourites by any means, but my hope is to win a medal.”
Before any members of the women’s softball club start drawing up designs for their championship rings, Smith has another goal for his team: improvement.
"We want to be competitive for a medal at Nationals, and that means you have to be top three." – Mike Smith
“As far as goals for the team, a big goal would be to make sure that we are better next year than we are now, because we are so young that if we don’t get better it’s kind of ‘which way are we going,’ so that is a big goal,” he said. “I hope that we are better this year than we were last year. I am pretty confident that we will be. We should be back in the top couple of teams in our league where we belong, and then we are going to try and take a run at Nationals.”
While the job of hosting Nationals can be incredibly exciting, Smith knows that there will have to be a lot of work put into making sure the tournament is a success.
“It will be a lot of work but this is only the fifth Nationals, and our team has attended three of them. This will be our fourth,” Smith said. “Last year was the only year that we didn’t attend because we went to a tournament in Texas. I am excited. It will be a lot of work for all of us, most of the work is still to come but we are looking forward to it.”
Many of the campus teams and clubs often have a difficult time getting large crowds – or realistically, any size crowd – out to see them play, but Smith believes that the softball club will have to look outside of the University community if they are to pack the stands come Nationals.
“We rely more on the softball community (for fans) than we do on the University,” Smith said. “I think that is the same problem that many other teams have is trying to get students out. [Nationals] are on a long weekend, Thanksgiving, so a lot of students aren’t here but we want to try and come up with something for students to come out.
“Our main focus is to make sure that our softball community in Saskatchewan come, that is who we will target as much as students but there is a lot of staff here [on campus] that do support us. From the president who has been to our games, to various faculty staff members. We only get the one home weekend in early September and then we are not back [in Regina] until Nationals. You cross your fingers for good weather, and go from there.”
The softball club will continue on their journey to the cup this Saturday when Lethbridge, SAIT, and Calgary are in town to take on the Cougars at Kaplan Field.