by British Softball Federation, www.britishsoftball.org
The Olympic adventure for the GB Women’s Team starts here. A Selection Panel has now chosen the 15 players who will compete for GB in the European Women’s Championship in the Czech Republic and Poland starting at the end of June.
The 15 players were selected from a ‘long list’ of 25 that was announced on International Women’s Day on 8 March, and video evidence provided between then and now on their training regimes played a major role in selection decisions.
The hope and expectation is that the team can finish in one of the top six places at the European Championship, which would allow the GB Women to move on to the eight-team Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifying Tournament scheduled for 23-28 July in Utrecht in The Netherlands.
That tournament will be a winner-take-all competition, with only the last team standing out of six European and two African countries qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
The 15 players selected for the European Women’s Championship and listed below are not guaranteed automatic selection for the Olympic Qualifier if GB gets there, and reserves have been selected as well. But barring injuries or unforeseen circumstances, most of the 15 will probably play in both tournaments.
Players and staff
The GB Women’s Team that will hope to be playing in Tokyo next year will consist of the following players:
- Emmilee Blowers
- Sydney Brown
- Katie Burge
- Georgina Corrick
- Hannah Edwards
- Lauren Evans
- Beth Fleming
- Amie Hutchison
- Olivia Lee
- Amy Moore
- Nerissa Myers
- Aubrey Peterson
- Alana Snow
- Chloe Wigington
- Alicja Wolny
Head Coach Rachael Watkeys said: “This has been without a doubt the hardest selection that we have had for the Women’s squad. All 25 athletes worked very hard during the selection period and through the use of technology such as Push Bands and Blast sensors we were able to monitor, compare and contrast better than we ever have before. I have no doubt that the possibility of competing in the Olympics has spurred everyone. In the end the Selection Panel chose an exceptional squad with a good mix of experienced and young players who will no doubt challenge the best in Europe for a medal.”
The staff will be:
- Head Coach: Rachael Watkeys
- Assistant Coach: Liz Knight
- Pitching Coach: Tina Whitlock
- Hitting Coach: Linda Derk
- Team Manager: Simon Mortimer
- Exercise Physiologist: Kim Hannessen
Most of the staff has been together for a number of years, but a new addition this year is Hitting Coach Linda Derk, who was recruited to help bolster the team’s offensive production by working remotely with players before the team gets together at the end of June.
In aiming to finish in the top six places at the European Championship, Rachael Watkeys and her staff and team will be buoyed by recent history: GB hasn’t finished lower than fifth in this tournament since 2001 and is currently the third-ranked team in Europe.
But with an Olympic place at stake, the competition will be tougher than ever. Not only will the traditionally strongest teams in Europe – the Dutch, the Italians and the Czechs – be carrying out intensive preparations for the summer, but several other countries that usually finish mid-table or lower will be bolstering their rosters and staking their claim.
So even with six places to play for to reach the Olympic Qualifier, this summer’s European Championship could be a minefield for any of the top-seeded teams, including GB, who get careless or have a bad day or a bad game at the wrong time.
GB will come into the tournament with one of their strongest-ever teams, and more pitching depth than at any time in the programme’s history. The team will also have a nice mix of veteran players and younger players who have shown their ability in age-group teams and will now have the chance to shine on the big stage.
However, despite receiving a grant for their Olympic campaign from the National Lottery through UK Sport, and some money over the past two years in private donations, the GB Women’s Team will still have to overcome the twin disadvantages of having far less funding than the other top teams in Europe, and far less time spent together training and competing as a team.
It will take a strong effort to overcome these disadvantages and reach the Olympic Qualifier, and a massive effort to reach the Promised Land of the Tokyo Olympics.
But this GB Team definitely has a chance to do it.
The GB Women’s Team plans to rendezvous in The Netherlands before travelling to Ostrava in the north east corner of the Czech Republic for training sessions and scrimmage games before the European Championship begins.
Ostrava will be the centre for the tournament, with two competition fields, but games will also be played in the nearby Czech town of Frydek-Mistek and in two towns just across the border in southern Poland, Rybnik and Zory.
Twenty-three countries have entered the tournament, which will begin with a round-robin played by three groups of six teams each and one group of five teams. GB has been drawn in the five-team pool, Group D, along with Greece, Germany, Croatia and Switzerland.
Only two of the five teams will move forward to Championship playoffs, so to retain a chance of reaching the Olympic Qualifier, GB has to come first or second in a group in which both Greece and Germany could be tricky opponents. But the key is to finish first, because that will give GB a much easier path in the second round-robin, which will reduce eight teams to the six that are guaranteed a place in the Olympic Qualifier.
Those six teams will then play for the medals – but can do so in the knowledge that they will definitely be in Utrecht later in July.
GB will play what is likely to be their toughest game first, in a 9.00 am meeting with Greece on Sunday 30 June.
They will then play Germany at 10.00 on Monday in Zory before driving back to Ostrava for a 4.15 pm encounter with Croatia.
GB’s final group game will be against Switzerland at 9.30 am on Tuesday in Frydek-Mistek, and then the playoffs and the second round-robins will begin on Tuesday afternoon.