SPORTS

Canada's women's baseball team excited to showcase sport at Pan Am Games

05/17/2015 03:28 EDT | Updated 05/17/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - The players on the Canadian women's baseball team want to make it very clear: they don't play softball.

This summer, they'll get to demonstrate that.

Women's baseball will be included in the Pan Am Games for the first time when the multi-sport event comes to Toronto in July. The Canadian players hope that will go a long way in dispelling some of the stereotypes surrounding their sport.

"Everyone thinks women play softball and men play baseball," said shortstop Bradi Wall of Swift Current, Sask. "But it's a simple explanation that we play major-league style baseball — it's the exact same distances, same field, same everything. People are always shocked.

"It's going to be great to finally be able to be out here and showcase our sport."

While women's baseball has had its own World Cups since 2004, it's never been part of a multi-sport event until now.

The Canadian team, whose 18-woman Pan-Am roster was announced Sunday at Rogers Centre, has done well at the international level, winning four medals (one silver, three bronze) in six world championship events and finishing fourth at the 2014 World Cup in Japan.

But the recognition hasn't been there.

"You get the softball question almost every single time," said second baseman Nicole Luchanski of Edmonton. "That means our sport still needs to grow. ... As hard as it is to keep pushing, there have been so many supporters along the way. I think having something like this (the Pan Am Games) is going to be huge.

"To have young girls see that we do this and it's in a multi-sport Games, hopefully that question will start coming less and less as the years go on."

The roster of 18 players was chosen from 32 who took part in a week-long training camp in Toronto. Some, like Kate Psota of Burlington, Ont., and Mississauga, Ont., native Ashley Stephenson, are veterans of the national team since its inception in 2004.

Others, like 17-year-old outfielder Kelsey Lalor of Red Deer, Alta., are new to the program.

Lalor, the youngest on the team, competed at the last World Cup in September. Like many of her teammates, she got into baseball at a young age and grew up playing with and against boys teams.

"It's great to come here and play with all these women who do the same thing that I do," Lalor said. "We get to come together and prove to places all over the world that women can play baseball too and it's a women's sport. When people think baseball they think strictly men's baseball or fastball, so this is an awesome opportunity to get the sport out there."

The women's baseball competition will take place July 20 to 26 in Ajax, Ont.

Canada, ranked fourth in the world by the International Baseball Federation, will compete against No. 2 United States, No. 5 Venezuela, No. 8 Cuba and No. 10 Puerto Rico.

The Canadian women open their tournament July 20 against Cuba and play their top rival, the U.S., on July 24, the last day of preliminary play.

"Our first game is going to be incredible," said pitcher/first baseman Amanda Asay of Prince George, B.C., who's also a PhD candidate in forest sciences at the University of British Columbia. "That's going to be the first thing to really look forward to and then our game against the U.S., we always have a bit of a rivalry there, that will be exciting."

Absent from the list of competitors is the top-ranked Japanese team and No. 3 Australia, both of which tend to dominate at the World Cups.

As Luchanski sees it, that could mean good things for Canada.

"I think (the Pan Ams) will be bigger and badder than the World Cups," Luchanski said. "It'll be more exciting and it'll be interesting because those countries like Japan and Australia won't be there. This is a really good chance for us.

"The Americas are really strong but to have just the Americas means we have a really good shot. People should be excited to watch."

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Canada:

Melissa Armstrong, pitcher (Saskatoon); Amanda Asay, first base/pitcher (Prince George, B.C.); Jessica Berube, pitcher (Quebec City); Niki Boyd, outfielder (Surrey, B.C.); Claire Eccles, pitcher (Surrey); Jenna Flannigan, outfielder (Cornwall, Ont.); Becky Hartley, outfielder (White Rock, B.C.); Jennifer Gilroy, catcher (Mississauga, Ont.); Kelsey Lalor, outfielder (Red Deer, Alta.); Nicole Luchanski, second base (Edmonton); Ella Matteucci, outfield (Fruitvale, B.C.); Autumn Mills, pitcher (Burlington, Ont.);Heidi Northcott, pitcher (Rocky Mountain House, Alta.); Kate Psota, first base (Burlington); Stephanie Savoie, catcher (Drummondville, Que.); Ashley Stephenson, third base (Mississauga); Vanessa Riopel, pitcher (Repentigny, Que.); Bradi Wall, shortstop (Swift Current, Sask.).

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