Youth of Canadian women’s baseball signals higher aspirations

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Growing up, Daphnee Gelinas of Repentigny, Que., was typically not only the only girl on her baseball team, but also the only girl in her league. Never did it matter to her, she loved to play so much her parents usually had trouble getting her off the field to come home, and even when opponents would chide her, she never relented.

“I feel like it helped me step up my game. I’m really a gamer, so when I was around the boys and they were better than me I wanted to prove them wrong, that I could do that,” says the now 22-year-old. “Often I would come up to bat and the coaches would be like, ‘OK outfielders, come in for the girl.’ I loved to prove them wrong. That helped me to progress.”

No one is questioning her power now that she’s a member of the Canadian national team, one who delivered a pivotal three-run homer along with the go-ahead RBI single in the 10th inning of an 8-5 win over the United States to claim bronze at the Women’s World Cup.

The hard-nosed middle infielder is part of a younger generation of Canadian women making an impact with the national team, while more and more players far more advanced than their predecessors are on their way up the system. More all-girls leagues are forming across the country to accommodate growing demand, a tribute to what veteran pioneers like Ashley Stephenson of Mississauga, Ont., and Kate Psota of Burlington, Ont., along with longtime national team coach Andre Lachance, started back in 2004.

“At the beginning, I didn’t know where to look or what to do, I didn’t know many players other than a couple in my hometown in Quebec City,” says Lachance, who is stepping down as the women’s team coach but will continue to oversee the program in a general-manager-type role.

“We had to travel the country and we had no measurements, I couldn’t tell if one player was better than another. Now we have comparables, and credit to all the provinces, they jumped on the bus. We created national championships and for the first time this year, we had all 10 provinces at the 16U championship, which is the level just before the national team.

“The government too, which is working for gender equity, helped, and we’re going to continue to fight for that and give opportunities to give everyone the opportunity to play the sport they love.”

At its highest level, the national team certainly projects well as it aims to take down six-time champion Japan.

The bronze medal was the fourth captured by Canada, along with two silver medals, in eight World Cup tournaments.

The 2018 club was a mix of young and old, with Stephenson – who delivered a key two-run single to cap a five-run rally in the decisive 10th inning – and Psota on one end of the spectrum and teenagers like 16-year-old pitcher Allison Shroder of Fruitvale, B.C., throwing 4.1 innings of relief against the Americans to 17-year-old catcher Katlyn Ross of Redcliff, Alta.

“When you start with a pitcher and a catcher, usually it’s pretty good,” says Lachance. “Daphne Gelinas is only a 22-year-old kid, she could be with us for quite some time. They didn’t play as much this tournament, but with Madison Willan (of Edmonton), Emma March (of Vancouver), Elizabeth Gilder (of Port Moody, B.C.), Anne-Sophee Lavallee (of Boucherville, Que.), we were one of the youngest teams at this World Cup. The new generation is already here and I know the 14-year-old generation is even better.”

Lachance will remain a part of that future, but will focus more on identifying and grooming players rather than leading them on the field. One wish is to bring together national team players and those vying for spots on the squad more often.

Since 2008, every national team has had at least one woman on the coaching staff and another goal is to have more women stay in the game. Part of stepping away from the coaching role is the chance to open an opportunity for someone.

“We’re trying to empower athletes to become leaders in their worlds after and I was saying to myself this winter, if I’m going to preach that, I should do the same thing myself,” says Lachance. “One of the leading positions is to lead the team on the field, so I thought it might be a good time to do that. At the same time, we have a new generation of athletes, and there are only two athletes left who have been with me since 2004, so it might be an opportunity to give someone else the opportunity to lead the next generation.”

Gelinas intends to be part of that next generation and staked her claim to a spot with a solid tournament, hitting 9-for-22 with two doubles, a triple, the homer, nine RBIs and five walks.

This World Cup was her second, and she seized the moment after a pre-tournament chat with Lachance.

“I’ve had lot of ups and downs with him, I’ve got cut from the team a couple of times and it made me even better than I was,” she says. “He knows how to talk to players, like when something is wrong, he knows how to introduce it to you so you can take it in a good way and then come back better. That’s what he did at the beginning of the tournament, we had a little meeting and he told me to step up my game if I want to play. He’s been a great coach for me.”

She rewarded him in a big way Friday in the bronze-medal game, her home run in the fifth erasing a 2-0 United States lead, and then in the 10th, breaking through with the bases loaded to open the floodgates.

“My approach was the same as normal,” Gelinas says of stepping to the plate in the 10th. “The bases are loaded, there are no outs, I’ve seen that pitcher before and I know how to hit the ball, so I didn’t want to have more pressure than I should have. I knew if I didn’t get a hit there’s another good player behind me right behind me so I wasn’t stressed about it.”

After the single, “the emotion was a bit crazy,” she adds, “It was the third extra inning, so I was really, really happy that we finally got the lead. For our team it was important, momentum had shifted and I was confident because there were such good hitters right behind me, I knew there were more runs to come.”

There were, and for Canada, a successful end to another Women’s World Cup, with a team in transition and more aspirations for the future.

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