National team begins gold rush at Softball City for 2014 Canadian Open

Team Canada touched down and then took at Softball City on Tuesday, beating Basque Country – a team from Spain – 13-0 in the evening game, their first showing at the 2014 Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship in South Surrey.

But before that, the national team was out and tossing that lime green ball around, arming up for another chase at gold – only a week after their silver medal finish at the World Cup of Softball in California.

"We are coming off of a great tournament," said Joey Lye, a longtime national team shortstop, originally from Toronto. "We're playing well together and we expect to be in that championship game at the end of the week. So that's what we're shooting for."

Canada will play national teams Mexico, Japan, and the United States between Wednesday and Friday, and then they'll close out their round robin play against the host White Rock Renegades, an elite local club team.

The Renegades are playing in the top women's bracket for the first time at this year's Canadian Open. (Normally, the senior women's competition is split into Women's Elite and Women's International groups.)

Canadian national team pitcher Sara Groenewegen grew up with the Renegades program, and will now be taking the field across from her home club – maybe she'll even be hurling pitches down on them from the mound – this weekend.

"Getting friends and family out to the park is like no other," said Groenewegen. "It's going to be fun for them to watch me this week for sure."

Groenewegen is making her second appearance with Canada at Softball City, after she played for them in last year's Canadian Open.

"I don't think it's ever boring putting on this maple leaf jersey," she said. "It's my first full year, so definitely learning my role on the team. Adapting to it and it's a new team, new girls, new everything. It's always exciting on this team."

Groenewegen, 19, just finished her first year with the University of Minnesota's Golden Gophers, where she had an outstanding freshman year.

The White Rock pitcher not only won the Big 10 conference's Rookie of the Year, but was also named its Pitcher of the Year – a couple tall accolades for a first-year NCAA athlete.

"It was awesome," she said. "I don't think a lot of people expect freshman to have an impact and myself included. I mean, I went in not having any expectations and just, go at everyone like it's another team.

"Good things happen for those who work hard, and that's what happened this year."

This year's Canadian team is made up of first-year players like Groenewegen, but also veterans and established stars like Lye, catcher Kaleigh Rafter, and Jen Yee, who's from North Delta, B.C.

But whether they're coming home or not, the Canadian Open has become an important stop for each and every national player.

The Fastpitch International Championship is one of the biggest softball tournaments in the entire world. It gives the girls a chance to not only grow the game in a maple syrupy spotlight, but the thrill of playing for Canada in Canada is a dream come true.

"(The Canadian Open) is one of the biggest that we play in, especially with all the youth teams here, as well," said Lye. "The fact that we get to run a youth clinic and help grow the game, it's a very special tournament for us to participate in."

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