Though they’re focused on this week’s Canada Cup, and can see world championships on the near horizon, as well – with a 2020 Olympic berth on the line in the latter – two of Canadian national women’s softball team’s top pitchers are also using this week to get something they haven’t had much of lately.
A little time to themselves.
Both Sara Groenewegen and Danielle Lawrie-Locke – both former White Rock Renegades stars – have been busy of late, for different reasons.
Groenewegen, 23, spent the fall finishing up her undergrad studies at the University of Minnesota – where for four years previous she starred in the pitcher’s circle for the Golden Gophers – before immediately headed south to the University of Oklahoma, where she began work on her master’s degree while also serving as a graduate-assistant coach with school’s women’s softball team.
In between all that, she somehow had to find time to stay in playing shape herself, knowing that a summer with the national team was fast approaching.
In the weeks since the school year ended, Groenewegen and her teammates have been to California for training camp, Japan for an 11-game exhibition tour and, most recently, in Oklahoma City for the International Cup tournament.
Standing in foul territory of Softball City’s Diamond 2 on Tuesday morning, the South Surrey pitcher said this week was her first time back at home since January.
“I’m really excited to see my friends and family,” she told Peace Arch News.
She admits her rigorous schedule – to which she added coaching duties for the first time – took its toll on her this year, to the point when she’s decided to put the pin in her coaching plans; she is planning to move back home after the summer, rather than return to Oklahoma.
“Softball was getting exhausting,” she said.
That said, she still enjoyed coaching, and think it helped her own game, as well.
“(Coaching) was cool because you get to see a different side of the game. As a player, you aren’t necessarily blinded, but you don’t get to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on,” she said.
“I think I’ve grown a lot in terms of my knowledge of the game… (but) it’s been really challenging because you’re only given so much time. You have to focus, and figure out your priorities… With the demands of being a (graduate assistant), I was giving too much of my time to them and not enough for my own training needs.”
Lawrie-Locke, meanwhile, has faced her own challenges – mostly of the scheduling variety – as she mounts a comeback with the national team after years of being away from the game.
As for why the former Olympian – who in 2008 as a 21-year-old played for Canada the last time softball was an Olympic sport – was drawn back to the game, she gives a simple answer.
“Why? Why not?” she said.
The sport’s return to the Olympics – having been reinstated last August for the 2020 event in Tokyo – played a major role, she said, admitting that she likely would not have come back had the Olympics still been a no-go.
In 2008, Canada finished fourth.
“I wanted to create a different memory than I had in ‘08, and help a different team potentially get there,” she said.
The former University of Washington star, now a 31-year-old mother of two – to daughters Madison, 4, and Audrey, one – admits that it’s been difficult to be away from her family as much as she has been.
Today (Friday), is Day 50 of Team Canada’s 75-day summer schedule, and Lawrie-Locke has been there for most of it – first California, then Japan – but was recently given two weeks off to go home to her family.
And like Groenewegen, who needed time to herself to refocus, Lawrie-Locke said Tuesday that she feels similarly – adding that any on-field pressures pale in comparison to what she normally deals with as a busy mom.
“Audrey, three weeks ago, just had emergency surgery on her lungs – she had popcorn in her lung, and then two days ago, she broke her wrist, so she’s made it real easy on me,” Lawrie-Locke laughed.
“Everything else seems easy – the kids are the hard part.
“My life is so hard right now with my kids and everything (else) that’s going on, when I step in the circle, that’s really the only time i don’t think about how hard my life is, and it’s refreshing. It really makes me appreciate the game more than I ever have.”
Team Canada opened its Canada Cup schedule Tuesday with two games, a 7-0 win over Korea in the afternoon, followed by a 4-3 loss to Colorado’s Triple Crown in the evening.
Both Lawrie-Locke and Groenewegen pitched in the second game.
Though they didn’t get the win, Canada’s head coach Mark Smith was excited at the prospect of heading into the rest of the summer – and beyond – with both former Renegades, along with Jenna Caira, leading the pitching staff.
Lawrie-Locke, Smith said, “gives the staff a boost in terms of her intensity.”
Smith, a former pitcher himself, was known as an uber-intense competitor during his playing days – “I walked in those shoes, for sure,” he said – and as such, can appreciate what the returning veteran brings to his team.
“Danielle’s a competitor, and that’s what you love about her,” he said.
“That’s one of the things that I think the athletes find so exciting – Danielle absolutely has a presence, as does Sara, as does Jenna, and it makes your teammates better behind you. Everybody is a little taller when they’ve got somebody in the circle they know is going to compete game in, game out.”
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