UBC makes softball pitch

The introduction of softball at UBC will give White Rock Renegades like Kelsey Andison, shown here pitching last spring with her ‘91 team, more playing options. - File photo
The introduction of softball at UBC will give White Rock Renegades like Kelsey Andison, shown here pitching last spring with her ‘91 team, more playing options.
— image credit: File photo

Announcement gives local players more opportunities

Opportunities for B.C.’s top softball players to play at the post-secondary level will get even better next year, after the University of B.C. announced last week plans to begin a women’s softball program for 2008/09.

The team would hit the field at the club level in its first season, and move up to either the NAIA or NCAA level in 2009/10.

A UBC softball program was the brainchild of Rick O’Connor and John Barkley – both of whom have daughters who grew up in the White Rock Renegades organization, and who are both currently enrolled at the Point Grey campus. Canada Cup co-chairman Greg Timm is also involved in the new endeavour.

The newly formed group, called Friends of UBC Softball, had been in discussion with UBC athletic director Bob Philip since last August, and their proposal was approved by the school in January.

“It’s a huge deal for softball in Canada. It will give some girls a chance to stay home and continue to play,” said O’Connor, a South Surrey resident who is also chief operating officer for Black Press, parent company of the Peace Arch News.

“They had been looking to expand to softball for quite some time – because they’ve already got a baseball program – but what really kick-started it was the proposal to join the NCAA.”

A proposal to join the American college system – likely at the Div. 2 level to begin with – is to be put forth in May, and a decision made by August.

UBC will start a softball program one way or another, Philip said.

“It wouldn’t matter if we were in the NCAA or not, the decision to start the softball program is coincidental,” he said. “Even if we don’t go into the NCAA, we’re still planning to start softball.”

During the inaugural season at the club level, the team will be funded by the Friends of UBC committee before receiving full varsity status and funding in the second year, at which point the committee will focus attention - and funds – on providing scholarships.

In the coming weeks, the committee will also focus on hiring a coach – a part-time job at first – and then the recruiting process will begin.

With the Lower Mainland being such a hotbed for softball talent, the Thunderbirds’ roster will likely be peppered with local faces.

“I would hope that a handful of our players will be there – I’d be surprised if there weren’t seven or eight Lower Mainland freshmen in that first season,” said White Rock Renegades ‘91 coach Chuck Westgard, who is also part of the Friends of UBC Softball team.

Westgard’s Renegades won the bantam national championship last year, and his players will be eligible for UBC’s first recruiting class.

“Some of the girls know about (UBC’s team) already, and I know they’re excited about it,” he continued.

Though UBC may have difficulty keeping the province’s biggest talents – like University of Washington pitcher Danielle Lawrie and University of Oregon standout Jen Salling – from moving south to softball powerhouses, the team will give other players another viable playing option.

“A lot of our girls go to the smaller schools in the States, but UBC is such a good academic school, it might be a better option for some of them,” Westgard said.

Down the road, O’Connor didn’t rule out the possibility that UBC could one day compete with the NCAA’s best programs.

“Who knows, maybe if we build a good enough program we’ll end up going to Div. 1 one day,” he said.

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