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Canada Cup to bring Olympic feeling to South Surrey

Annual women’s fastpitch tournament begins Friday
Team Canada’s Jenn Salling slides into base against Ireland during an early-round game at last summer’s Women’s World Softball Championship. Team Canada returns to South Surrey this weekend for the Canada Cup, from July 7-17. (File photo)

Play ball!

A year after 30 international teams vied for a women’s world softball championships on South Surrey soil – a title eventually won by the United States – more than a dozen are back in the city, and will teams begin play Friday when the first pitch is officially thrown at the Canada Cup.

Between the women’s international division – in which three different Softball Canada teams will compete – the youth (under-18 and under-16) tournaments and a Special Olympics division, this year’s tournament will feature more than 90 teams.

And not only is the tournament reborn in name, with the longtime event’s Canada Cup moniker replacing the Canadian Open banner which was used from 2011-2015, the sport itself is invigorated by last August’s announcement that women’s fastpitch is set to return to the Olympic docket for Tokyo 2020.

It’s an excitement and feeling that has been noticed by members of the Canadian national team, which held a selection camp in Toronto late last month, and announced its summer roster just prior to Canada Day.

“The vibe just feels totally different this year,” said Canadian shortstop Jenn Salling, one of the longest-serving members of the team, and one of just two, along with Kaleigh Rafter, to be part of the last Canadian Olympic squad, in 2008.

“You can tell that everyone – ourselves and also our coaches – are just super focused now that we’re back in the Olympics.”

With softball gaining momentum among both players and fans, the local tournament is also still riding high off the success of the Surrey-hosted 2016 world championships.

“It’s crazy how (quickly) time has passed since then,” Salling said.

Though action on the ball diamonds begins today and continues through the weekend, Canada and the other international teams – including Japan, Venezuela, Chinese-Taipei, Australia and South Korea – don’t arrive in town until Monday, and will hit the field beginning Tuesday morning.

Canada’s first game is set for next Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., against Philippines at Softball City’s diamond 1. On Wednesday morning at 10 a.m., the team will play Pakistan on the same diamond.

Canada’s two other entries into the tournament – development team called Canada Elite, plus a junior squad – will be the first national teams to hit the field. The juniors play Saturday evening, 6:30 p.m. against a U.S. club team, the Calahoo Erins, while Canada Elite plays Monday night, 6:30 p.m., against a Team BC under-21 team.

When Salling spoke to Peace Arch News last week, she and her teammates were getting set to head to Chicago for three tuneup games against the National Pro Fastpitch League’s Chicago Bandits, but she said she was already looking forward to setting foot on the grass at Softball City.

“The Canada Cup is always such an exciting event, for our team specifically… and also just for the sport of softball,” said Salling, a Port Coquitlam native.

“Along with the World Cup (in Oklahoma), the Canada Cup has been the biggest international event every summer. Even though it hasn’t been in the Olympics, I think everyone has done a good job (keeping it in the spotlight).”

Salling said the fact that last year’s world championships and the 2015 Pan-Am Games were both played on home soil – the Pan-Ams were held in Toronto – convinced her to continue her playing career, rather than hang up her cleats and focus on the future.

“There was a point there where I was ready to start turning the page, but since winning gold (at Pan-Ams) and since softball is back in the Olympics, it’s just been really inspiring for me,” said Salling, who just completed her master’s degree at the University of Washington while also serving as a graduate assistant with the women’s softball team.

“Life is definitel starting, but for now, I’m just focused on being fully present and immersed in our team here. There’s a whole different feeling around everything now, and it’s really cool and refreshing.

“It’s what you should feel when you play for a national team.”

Jenn Salling returned to the Team Canada fold in 2015 after a few years playing professionally in the U.S. (File photo)