When Canadian softball pitcher Danielle Lawrie hits the mound this weekend, she won’t be thinking about what’s on the line.
The squad is competing for a spot in next summer’s Tokyo Games at a qualifying tournament in Surrey starting on Sunday, but Lawrie insists that every player is simply focused on the next game.
“Right now it’s just one day at a time and get ready to go to war,” said the right-handed veteran.
Locking up an Olympic spot would mark a big milestone for the Canadians.
Softball hasn’t been included in the Games since 2008 when Canada finished fourth in Beijing. While the sport is in for Tokyo, softball has already been nixed from the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Dwelling on that, however, would put extra pressure on the team, said Lawrie, one of three women on Canada’s current roster who also went to the Beijing Games.
“Pressure’s a privilege and we all know that. But at the end of the day, if I’m thinking about this maybe being the last Olympics for the next (eight) years, No. 1, I’m getting ahead of myself and No. 2, I’m not putting myself in a position to be present in what I’m doing,” she said.
“Right now, we need to qualify and that’s the only thing on my mind.”
It’s been a busy summer for the Canadians, and one that’s put them in a strong position heading into the qualifiers.
The team moved to Marion, Ill., earlier this year to play in the National Professional Fastpitch league as the Canadian Wild and finished the season third with a 22-20-1 record.
In July, the squad won gold at the annual Canada Cup in Surrey and earlier this month they took home silver from the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru after dropping a 3-1 decision to the No. 1-ranked U.S. in the gold medal matchup.
All that preparation has left the group feeling mentally and physically ready for the Olympic qualifiers, said infielder Emma Entzminger.
“We’ve put countless hours into practising, playing, repetition after repetition. And our sport’s big on reps,” she said. ”So I think going into this tournament we’re as prepared as we can be.”
The trick now is remaining consistent, said coach Mark Smith.
“We’ve worked really hard to prepare for this particular week,” he said. ”Now it’s a case of not going out and really trying any harder or doing anything differently than we’ve done all summer. If we can play within ourselves and do the things we’re capable of then we should be successful.”
At No. 3 in the world, Canada is the top-ranked team heading into the Olympic qualifiers and is grouped with Puerto Rico (4), Cuba (17), Guatemala (18), Argentina (25) and Bahamas (39) for the preliminary round.
The other group includes Mexico (5), Brazil (14), Venezuela (16), Dominican Republic (19), Peru (20) and the British Virgin Islands (57).
The Canadians faced a number of those squads at the Pan Ams earlier this month. Each time, the team was able to preserver through a lot of tough challenges, Entzminger said.
“We have a lot of depth on this team and we’ve played a lot of games this summer. And we’ve kind of had to deal with a lot of failures,” she said.
“I think we sent messages in the Pan Ams of who we are and what we’re here to do so I think that’s good moving forward to this tournament.”
The top two teams at the qualifying tournament will punch their tickets to Tokyo 2020.
Canada’s chances might look good on paper but rankings don’t matter heading into an international event, Lawrie said.
“Anyone can beat anyone on a given day,” she said. “So at the end of the day, I’m playing as though we’re the last-place team and people are coming and literally trying to beat us all the time, like we have the biggest target on our back. And that’s how we have to play.”
Team Canada will play Cuba on Sunday to kickoff the tournament.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press