Aussie Spirit aiming to bounce back at Japan Cup

Stacey Porter's experience playing in Japan should help her Spirit teammates in the Japan Cup. Pictures courtesy of Sam Donkin Photography

Aussie Spirit aiming to bounce back at Japan Cup

The Aussie Spirit hope to put recent disappointing results behind them as they launch a fresh assault on top-ranked softball nations in the Japan Cup this week.

Still smarting after finishing 10th at the recent World Championship in Canada, the Spirit players and coaches are determined to show the softball world that they are better than their performances in Vancouver would indicate.

Although there are several players from the Vancouver trip who are also playing in the Japan Cup, the Spirit team of 15 includes six who were not part of the World Championship team.

Gabrielle Plain

Gabrielle Plain is the youngest member of the Aussie Spirit team.

The whirlwind trip to Takasaki, 120 km northwest of Tokyo, begins with warm-up games against local teams on Wednesday and Thursday before the Spirit take on the USA in the first game of the Japan Cup on Friday.

That will be followed by games against Chinese Taipei and Japan, with a final on Sunday depending on earlier results.

Head Coach Fabian Barlow says his players are excited about what lies ahead. He says those who played in Vancouver are determined to bounce back, while the newcomers are keen to show that they deserve to wear the Aussie Spirit uniform now and in the future.

Setting the daily line-up will be no easy task for the coaches. Do they send out the team that gives them the best chance to win the game on the day, or are they looking to develop players for the future?

“At the World Championship, that team was picked to do the best they could at that event, and each line-up on the day was picked to do the best they could in that game,” Barlow says.

“We’re definitely trying to have an eye on today, but we also have to keep an eye on tomorrow, so we need to create depth in the program.

“By getting these other girls in, that should hopefully create more competition, and it’s an opportunity for them to showcase themselves and tell the selectors and coaches that they’re ready to be there all the time.

“But we have confidence, no matter what team we put out there, that they are capable of winning that game at that particular time.”

Barlow will be interested to see how the players respond to such a disappointing outcome in Canada. “We’ve got to get back on track. I’ll be looking at the players from the World Championship and seeing what’s happened in the past month for them mentally, emotionally and physically.

Fabian Barlow

Aussie Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow.

“There’s not been a lot of time to fix things physically in the last four weeks, but it will be interesting to see how they individually respond to what happened in Vancouver and how they’ve gone away to think about how they need to improve their game and what needs to happen from them moving forward.”

The newest member of the Spirit squad is teenage pitcher Gabrielle Plain, who has been a standout performer at junior level. “Gabrielle has come through the junior pathway,” Barlow says. “She was at the Junior World Championship in 2015 and is still eligible for the Under 19 World Championship next year.

“She’s been a pretty dominant force for NSW coming through the junior national championships. She’s a big, strong, athletic girl who throws pretty hard for her age, and she’s very excited about the opportunity.”

Barlow believes all the players will benefit from the experience of playing in Japan, where crowds are big and noisy and the weather is expected to be hot and humid. Team members Stacey Porter and Kaia Parnaby, who have played professionally in Japan, should prove beneficial.

“Playing in Japan is a really unique experience,” Barlow says. “It’s a very exciting opportunity for our players. We’ll certainly tap into Stacey and Kaia’s experience of having been over there to provide any extra information that could help us get the results we’re looking for.”

Whatever happens in Takasaki, Barlow believes the tournament will be a huge benefit to the Spirit players’ development.

“For the ones who weren’t in Vancouver, it’s a very good opportunity for them to go and say, ‘Well, maybe I should have been in Vancouver, but I’m here now and so I want to make the most of it.’

“We’re looking to win all the time, but I’m very interested watching how individuals go about basically showcasing themselves moving forward.

“With the Olympics announcement a couple of weeks ago, you’d like to think they’ll all be getting excited about getting the opportunity that’s been presented to them.”

Aussie Spirit Japan Cup schedule

August 31: Practice game vs Taiyo Yuden, 2pm
September 1: Practice games vs Bic Camera Takasaki, 10 am and 2pm
September 2: Game one vs USA, 12pm
September 2: Game two vs Chinese Taipei, 3pm
September 3: Game three vs Japan, 12pm
September 4: Final game, details TBA depending on preliminary results
September 4: Closing ceremony, 7.45pm

Aussie Spirit team for the 2016 Japan Cup

Janice Blackman, Qld Kaia Parnaby, NSW Erin Thras, Qld
Amelia Cudicio, NSW Sam Poole, NSW Taylah Tsitsikronis, NSW
Jemma Freegard, WA Stacey Porter, NSW Clare Warwick, ACT
Sandra Holden, Qld Belinda White, SA
Rachel Lack, NSW Tara Speakman, Qld
Stacey McManus, NSW Gabrielle Plain, NSW