With more than 30 colleges and universities now offering varsity or club programs across the country, the landscape for women’s softball in Canada has never been more fertile.
On Saturday, Calgary’s SAIT Trojans will bring their brand of college ball to Kelowna for a pair of exhibition games at Kings Stadium against the Okanagan All-Stars.
The Trojans are members of the five-team Western Collegiate Softball Association. Established in 2003, the WCSA also features clubs from University of Calgary, Briercrest College, University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan.
This season, SAIT’s roster included Nina Hendricks, a pitcher with the Dutch junior nationals, as well as WCSA all-stars Hayley St. Germaine, Tori Stavenjord and Alissa Bender.
Trojans’ head coach and general manager George Edwards expects this weekend’s visit will show young players from B.C.’s interior that pursuing college softball in Canada is a viable option.
“It’s an opportunity for girls in that region of B.C. to see some college ball and realize that they’re not that far off,” said Edwards, whose program also features players from Mount Royal in Calgary. “They have a chance to chase their dreams right here in Canada. For our team, it’s also a good opportunity to recruit.”
Edwards said the WCSA is hoping to soon expand into B.C. and that Kelowna—preferably at UBC Okanagan—would be a prime location for a new club.
“We want to introduce the idea of college softball to Kelowna and hopefully one day we’ll see a team at UBC Okanagan,” Edwards said. “We believe Kelowna would be an ideal spot, and maybe even Kamloops…they would be good additions to our league.
“We’ve watched the league increase in quality, stature and awareness over the years and this would be another step in that direction.”
Like most college programs in Canada, the Trojans aren’t funded by their institution and cover their own costs by fundraising and with player’s fees.
Kelowna’s Racquel Bennett will play for the Okanagan team in Saturday’s doubleheader. The 17-year-old catcher’s options for next season include the University of Calgary or University of Toronto programs.
Bennett is looking forward to connecting with college coaches this weekend and sharing the same field with players who have already made the step into collegiate ball.
“I think it’s an important event for the exposure we’ll get,” said Bennett. “You get a chance to meet some coaches, and with the contacts they have at other colleges and universities, it’s a good way to maybe get some interest.
“It’ll also be good to see the quality of softball and what it takes to play at that level. It should be fun.”
The Okanagan team consists of past and present members of the Kelowna Minor Fastball Society’s Heat programs, as well as players currently attending UBCO.
Players with college experience suiting up for the home team on Saturday are: Rachel Penner, Oklahoma City University; Brittany Smith, Bacone College; Danielle Orr, Seward County Community College; Felisha Vogelaar; Seward County Community College; and Samantha Fillion, Team Canada ID camp attendee.
Rounding out the local all-stars are former and current Kelowna Heat players Racquel Bennett, Haley Martin, Marlayna Martin, Katie Huston, Dani Knopf and Emily Wright, and UBCO student Andi Zehr.
Saturday’s games at Kings Stadium are set for 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Admission to both games is free.