The training camps, warm-up tournament games and last-minute practice sessions are over. Now it’s down to business for the Aussie Spirit.
The 2016 Women’s Softball World Championship begins today (Saturday morning AEST), in Surrey, British Columbia. With 31 nations competing, Australia is in a pool with Mexico, Switzerland and Serbia.
According to Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow, all the signs are good. “We know that if we play the way we are capable of playing, we’ll have good results,” Barlow said on the eve of the first game.
Fresh from finishing third at the World Cup in Oklahoma City, in which they lost only one game, the Australians are in good shape, with no injury concerns. “Apart from a few niggles, everyone is ready to go,” Barlow said. “Minor injuries are a part of touring, and all players have to deal with that. But we have nothing serious.”
The Spirit certainly didn’t have it all their own way in Oklahoma City, with two games against lower-ranked opponents being won in the last at-bat of the game. “We had a tough week,” Barlow said. “Some teams asked us some tough questions of ourselves, and we answered them pretty well.”
“We showed resiliency when we needed it. We found ourselves down a couple of times but we fought back, which was great to see.”
“There were no easy games. A lot of the traditionally weaker teams in recent years have had players in the US college system, so they have improved considerably.”
Australia’s first game in Surrey is against Mexico, scheduled for 1.15pm Saturday AEST. “We watched them play in Oklahoma City,” Barlow said. “They have good pitching and some fast runners, particularly out of the left handed batters’ box, which makes it hard to defend against them. But if we play the way I know we can play, we’ll get the result we want.”
After a scrimmage against New Zealand on Wednesday, Barlow has identified some areas his players need to work on. “We are aware of what we need to do, and we’ll be working on some issues before out first game.”
The USA, Japan and Canada are expected to be Australia’s toughest competition for medals, but Barlow says there may be some surprises among lesser-ranked teams. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Venezuela and the way they play the game,” he said.
“And China. We don’t know as much about them but I do know that teams will have to have their A game when they come up against China.”
For many Spirit players, these will be the biggest crowds they have played in front of. Barlow sees this as a positive. “We’ve got quite a few people travelling over from Australia and we are looking forward to playing in front of big crowds with lots of fan support.”
Pool A: Japan, Venezuela, France.
Pool B: USA, Brazil, Austria, Israel.
Pool C: Australia, Mexico, Switzerland, Serbia.
Pool D: Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Uganda.
Pool E: Chinese Taipei, Puerto Rico, India, Ecuador.
Pool F: Netherlands, Czech Republic, Philippines, Pakistan.
Pool G: China, Cuba, Guatemala, Greece.
Pool H: New Zealand, Italy, Kenya, Peru.