Olympic berths on line as South Surrey softball qualifier set to begin

Canada opens tournament with game against Cuba at Softball City

In South Surrey in July, they won their second consecutive Canada Cup, and earlier this month they earned silver at the Pan American Games.

In between, members of the Canadian national women’s softball team have been busy travelling the United States as part of the National Pro Fastpitch circuit.

Now, after all that hard work and sacrifice – not to mention hours sitting in crowded airports and sleeping in unfamiliar hotels in cities from Cleveland, Ohio to Lima, Peru – comes the team’s biggest, most important task: Securing a spot in the Summer Games.

Beginning Sunday (Aug. 25), Team Canada will be one of 12 international squads competing at the 2019 Softball Americas Qualifier at Softball City, a World Baseball Softball Confederation-sanctioned event at which the top two teams will earn a berth in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The 2020 Games will be the first time softball and baseball are back on the Olympic docket since the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Softball will be a six-team tournament.

• READ ALSO: Olympic softball qualifier gets $150K boost from provincial government

• READ ALSO: Teams announced for Surrey-hosted Olympic softball qualifier

The City of Surrey was chosen by the WBSC as the host city for this month’s tournament back in January – an announcement that was originally expected in late summer of 2018, but was delayed more than once.

Similar qualifying tournaments were also scheduled this summer for the Europe/Africa region and Asian/Oceania. The United States, winners of the 2018 world championship, and Japan, as hosts, have already qualified in two of the six available spots.

For the Americas qualifier, a random, lottery-ball system was used back in April to determine which teams were placed in which pools. Canada ended up in Pool A alongside Puerto Rico – as the first and second seeds, respectively – followed by Bahamas, Cuba Guatemala and Argentina. Pool B is Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, British Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic.

This week’s tournament will begin with a game Sunday night, 7:30 p.m., between Canada and Cuba. Canada’s games the rest of the week all begin at 6 p.m. The tournament wraps up Sept. 1.

The tournament format will be different than what many local sports fans are used to.

After teams play each other in the pool round, the top three in each group move on to a ‘Super Round’ playoff. But rather than play each ‘Super Round’ team, teams will only play against the three teams in the opposite pool, and pool-round results from earlier in the week will count a second time in the ‘Super Round,’ rather than have two teams square off a second time.

“It just means that every single game is extremely meaningful. One hiccup, one bad game, and it’ll cost you,” tournament chair Greg Timm said during an April press event in which the teams and pools were announced via livestream from WBSC headquarters in Switzerland.

• READ ALSO: Pro prep helps Team Canada during busy softball summer

• READ ALSO: Canada national softball team wins second straight Canada Cup

As was the case when the team took part in the Canada Cup, the Canadian team that takes the field next week will feature plenty of names familiar to those in local softball circles. Two of the team’s top pitchers – Danielle Lawrie and Sara Groenewegen – are former White Rock Renegades, and Cloverdale’s Holly Speers plays first base and is one of the team’s most reliable offensive weapons.

Back in July, after Canada won the Canada Cup, Speers, who was dealing with an injury at the time, took to Instagram to express how she felt about playing at home with so much on the line.

“Our team was so invested towards our goal of winning gold it was amazing,” she wrote. “The fans were the loudest they have ever been and rolling into the qualifier week at the end of August is going to be great!!”

Since Surrey won the bid to host the event, Timm – who is also the longtime chair of the Canada Cup – has, on numerous occasions, called this year’s national team the best in Canadian history. The team is currently ranked No. 3 in the world, behind only the U.S. and Japan.

And though they’ve done an admirable job all summer of not looking too far ahead – instead focusing on the next target, be it the Canada Cup, the pro circuit or the Pan Ams – Groenewegen told Peace Arch News back in the spring that the thought of playing in the Olympics is always there.

“We do think it’s business as usual, but you can’t be naive to the fact that the Olympics are on the table,” she said at the time.

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