Junior Spirit ready to take Florida by storm

Tamieka Whitefield is one of 17 players who represent the Junior Spirit at the Under 19 World Championship. Pictures courtesy of Sam Donkin Photography

Junior Spirit ready to take Florida by storm

As if it’s not tough enough picking a team to represent Australia at a World Championship, selectors for this year’s event also had to compete with Mother Nature.

The Junior Spirit team to travel to Florida for the XII Junior Women’s Softball World Championship has been chosen, but only after a selection tournament scheduled for Brisbane was wiped out by the torrential downpours brought about by Cyclone Debbie further north.

2017 Junior Spirit Team (click here for player and staff profiles)

Kelsey Griffen, NSW Rhiannon Kemp, Qld Tarni Stepto, NSW
Natasha Holt, Vic Kandra Lamb, NSW Maddison Schofield, WA
Amber Hood, SA Jamie Mead, SA Brianna Trim, NSW
Georgia Hood, SA Gabrielle Plain, NSW Tia Waters, Qld
Montana Kearnes, NSW Sara Riou, WA Tamieka Whitefield, Qld
Shannon Keevers, NSW Maddison Smith, NSW
Gabbie Plain

Gabbie Plain is the most experienced player in the Junior Spirit team.

“It was frustrating for everyone involved,” Junior Spirit Head Coach Kerrie Porter lamented. “Selectors had picked a 27-player squad, and the aim was to give them practice games against the Aussie Spirit and see how they performed under the pressure of such tough competition.

“But with all the rain, it became a timing issue. It was unreasonable to expect everyone involved to get together again in another time frame, so we had to rely on previous information to get the 27 down to 17.

“It wasn’t an easy task, but everyone in the squad had played at the Nationals, so at least it was a level playing field.

“And at the end of the day, selectors have chosen a competitive, versatile team that I’m sure will do well in Florida.”

The Under 19 World Championship will be held in Clearwater, Florida, from July 24-30. Before then, the Junior Spirit players will come together for a weekend camp about six weeks before leaving, then hold a pre-departure camp to fine-tune their skills.

Between camps, the players will continue their skills program and work on strength and conditioning. “Preparation is the key,” Porter said. How we prepare is how we perform.”

Junior teams are by definition often short on experience, and several Australian players will be wearing the green and gold for the first time. But others, such as NSW pitcher Gabrielle Plain, have already tasted high-level international competition.

“Gabbie has played at Junior World Championship level before and has also been with the Aussie Spirit at the Toyota Cup,” Porter said. “We’ll be relying on her to tap into her experience and for her to pass on information to her less-experienced teammates.”

The Australians leave on July 14 and will play some practice games in Clearwater before the main event. “We have two confirmed games against the Japanese Under 19 team, and we hope to organise some more,” Porter said.

The format of the tournament will not be finalised until all the competing teams are known. But whatever the format, Porter hopes to improve on the 2015 World Championship in Oklahoma City, where the Junior Spirit finished seventh as USA won gold, Japan silver and Puerto Rico bronze.

“Our minimum goal is to make the playoff rounds,” Porter said. “After that, we’ll just see how far we can go.”

The XII Junior Women’s World Championship will mark the first time that Clearwater has hosted such a high-profile softball event. The Eddie C. Moore Complex — featuring nine softball fields and state-of-the-art training facility — will host the championship.

World Baseball Softball Confederation Executive Vice President Dale McMann said: “The location and top notch facilities will be an asset for the top youth female softball athletes to compete. This is an important competition opportunity for this age category to be able to continue to test their skills against their counterparts from around the world.”