Canadian national team members Sara Hopwood

Peninsula pipeline to Canada’s national fastpitch squad

White Rock, Surrey contingent as strong as ever on Canadian fastpitch team at Canadian Open tournament.

When Sara Groenewegen was in elementary school, she spent a week of her summer serving as the bat girl for Team Canada during the Canada Cup.

She mingled with the players, sat in the dugout with them – soaked it all in – while all the while hoping she would be in their position one day.

That day has come, as Canada hit the field this week at the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship. And Groenewegen – a pitcher with the reigning national midget fastpitch champion White Rock Renegades ‘95 – is far from alone on Team Canada’s senior women’s team roster: the team is dotted with local talent, continuing a long tradition of Peninsula players who have worn the red and white Maple Leaf jersey at Softball City. It’s a list that includes Auburn Sigurdson, Tamra Howren, Danielle Lawrie and Melanie Matthews.

“It was pretty cool just to be around players like Danielle Lawrie and Jen Salling back then, and just dreaming of being on the team one day,” Groenewegen said Tuesday.

“Now it’s pretty cool being able to say I’m on the team now.

She first suited up with the senior team during last week’s World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma, and said that experience is something she won’t soon forget.

“It’s an amazing feeling – there’s no other feeling like it, to put on that Canadian jersey.”

In addition to the 18-year-old Groenewegen – who was added to the senior roster after a strong performance with the junior national team earlier this summer – Canada’s roster at this week’s tournament also includes White Rock Renegade alums Jocelyn Cater, Larissa Franklin and Sara Hopwood – the latter is currently with the Surrey Storm senior team – and Storm graduates Kelsey Haberl and Marina Demore. Veteran Canadian infielder Jen Yee – also a Storm alum – is expected to join the team this week, but had not arrived in time for Team Canada’s media availability Tuesday morning.

Hopwood, who like Groenewegen is in her first go-round with the senior squad, admitted the fact she is on the top Canadian squad still hasn’t quite sunk in. She joined the team for the World Cup, and played her first game – at second base – during Canada’s opening game against the USA on July 11.

“Oh my God, that was definitely an experience,” she beamed.

“It was just unreal. It’s still kind of setting in that I’m here, on this team. It’s been amazing, and something I’m going to remember forever.”

Now set to make her debut on home soil – Canada opened the women’s international division tourney Tuesday against the California A’s – Hopwood is excited to line up in Canadian colours alongside her fellow Surrey and White Rock teammates.

“I’ve played with all of them, and to be able to share this experience with them, it’s been pretty great,” she said.

While he won’t take much credit for the influx of Surrey and White Rock talent on the national stage, Canadian Open director Greg Timm is rightfully proud the annual tournament has helped spur young players on to greater things.

“It’s an awfully big point of pride for us – the fact that the players here have excelled. It’s one of the big reasons we run this tournament – so we can give the young girls the chance to see these players play,” he said.

“We’ve had nearly every Olympian in softball come through this park at some point in time. The younger players have had a chance to rub shoulders will (former U.S. stars) Lisa Fernandez and Jennie Finch, and (Japanese pitcher) Yukiko Ueno.”

The fact so many Renegades and Storm players have come up through the system does nothing but motivate both organizations’ youngest players, Timm said.

“I say to our White Rock Renegades every year, when I speak to the first-year team, ‘I don’t know which one of you it will be yet, but at least one of you will play for Team Canada some day,’” he said.

“All we do is provide them the opportunity, and they put in the hard work to get there. You can’t make it happen, you just allow it to happen.”

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