Softball national and club teams swing into international action in July

Fri 1 Jul 2011

If July is coming up, it must mean the start of the international softball competition season, and five GB national teams will be in action this summer along with two fastpitch and two slowpitch club teams.

These nine different teams will be competing in four European Championships, three European Cups, a World Cup and one of the world's top open tournaments, and the locations will range from Vancouver, Canada to Dupnitsa, Bulgaria and a few points in between.

All of the players on these teams are, of course, mainly paying their own way, since no GB teams receive external funding -- though they do receive invaluable support from the BSF, including, for the first time this year, bursaries for players who would otherwise struggle to take up their places. The fact that we can send so many teams abroad to represent British softball is a tribute to the dedication of the top youth and adult fastpitch and slowpitch players in the UK and to the volunteers who coach and manage them.

Here is the full menu of British teams abroad over the next couple of months.

GB Junior Men

First up will be the newly-reformed GB Junior (Under-19) Men's Fastpitch Team, who will be entering European Championships for the first time since 2004, when GB finished sixth out of seven teams in Roissy, France.

This year's competition will be held from July 11-16 at Kostelec nad Orlici in the Czech Republic.

Head Coach Stan Doney has recruited, assembled and trained a talented group of players from around the country, whose speed and athleticism, judging by their performances in the London Fastpitch Softball League and at Diamond Series 1 and 2, should go a long way to make up for their lack of competition experience.

The fact that a GB Junior Men's Team has been re-created, with players based entirely in this country, promises a more solid future for the successful GB Men's Fastpitch Team, currently ranked third in Europe and eighth in the world.

GB Junior Women

About 12 hours after the GB Junior Boys swing into action, and about 7000 miles to the west, the GB Junior (Under-19) Women's Team should be playing their first game at one of the world's top open tournaments for that age group, the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship, usually known as the Canada Cup.

The tournament will be held at Softball City in Surrey, British Columbia, just outside Vancouver, from July 11-17.

Entrants will include other Under-19 national teams and some of the top travel ball club teams from the US and Canada, and the GB Juniors will face a stiff challenge that should be ideal preparation for next year's European Championships.

The GB Team will consist of eight players based in the UK, plus one based in Austria and four who live in North America -- two pitchers and two catchers.

The team will leave the UK on July 5 for six days of training and scrimmage games before the competition begins.

GB Co-ed Slowpitch Team

The reigning and seven-time European champion GB Co-ed Slowpitch Team will attempt to add an eighth straight title under new Head Coach Jeremy Bedford when they take on the Czech Republic, Ireland, Guernsey, Slovenia, Germany and newcomers Bulgaria, who are hosting the tournament in Dupnitsa from July 19-23.

Germany is returning to the competition for the first time since 2002, and since slowpitch is reportedly blossoming in Deutschland, the Germans should have a stronger team than a decade ago.

The GB Team incorporates many of the stars who have been so successful in Europe over the past few years, including two players -- Martin Cartledge and Steph Jardine -- who played on the very first European Championship team in 1998, plus the top home run slugger in European slowpitch history, Brett Gibbens. But the squad also includes several players promoted from the Development Squad after a series of trials and then the GB Challenge Tournament in May.

It will be a major shock if GB doesn't bring back another European trophy, but the tournament will be good preparation for the ISF Slowpitch World Cup scheduled for January 2012.

GB Women's Fastpitch Team

A couple of days after the GB Slowpitch Team gets going in Bulgaria, the GB Women's Fastpitch Team will take the field in Oklahoma City, in temperatures probably pushing 40 degrees, to compete against the top four teams in world softball -- USA, Japan, Canada and Australia, plus the Czech Republic -- in the 6th World Cup of Softball.

GB's game against World Champions USA on Sunday, July 24, will be televised live in the UK at 11.00 pm on the subscription channel ESPN America, and repeated on tape delay during the daytime on both July 25 and 26.

It is a deserved honour for the GB Team, currently ranked second in Europe and 11th in the world, to be invited to the World Cup, but the main purpose for Head Coach Hayley Scott and the team will be to prepare for the European Women's Championships and World Championship Qualifier that will take place shortly afterwards in the Friuli Region of North East Italy.

The World Cup will run from July 21-25, and the GB Team will fly from Oklahoma City to Italy on July 26 to get ready for the European Championships, which will open with a marquee game between GB and Italy at Ronchi dei Legionari following the Opening Ceremony on Sunday, July 31. The tournament will end on Saturday, August 6, and the teams that finish in the top three places will qualify for the 2012 ISF World Championships in White Horse, Canada.

The GB squad will number only 14 players for the World Cup (including American guest pitcher Megan Brown) and 13 for the European Championships, with several players from last year's World Championship team unable to play this year due to injury or for reasons related to work or school. But the team still has high hopes of qualifying for World Championships for the second straight time behind top pitcher Stacie Townsend.

The team includes six players who live in the UK and seven based overseas.

Chromies and Pioneers

The fifth European Slowpitch Cup will be played from August 3-6 in the Czech hill town of Mlade Buky, and two teams will be there to represent Great Britain: Chromies, who won the competition last year in Slovenia and retain a place as defending champions, and Pioneers, who qualified by winning the Premier Nationals in 2010.

They will be joined by championship-winning slowpitch teams from Ireland, Austria and the Czech Republic in a tournament which will be short on numbers but should be high in quality.

Chances are high, however, of an all-GB final and the Cup coming back to Britain once again -- though British domination in Europe was broken for once in the 2009 European Slowpitch Cup in Bulgaria when Dodder Dynamoes from Ireland took the prize.

GB Cadettes

The final national team to take the field this summer will be the GB Cadette (Under-16) Girls' Team, who will compete in European Cadette Championships in Antwerp, Belgium from August 8-13.

Head Coach Sarah Jones will take a smaller squad than she would have liked to the tournament after a number of withdrawals, and the GB Cadettes were unfortunate when the ESF rearranged the tournament format and put them in a very tough first round group that includes Russia, the Czech Republic, Italy and France.

Not only that, but the tournament format -- which the BSF has protested to no avail -- sends only two teams from first round groups of six and five teams forward to playoffs rather than the traditional three, and GB will face a stiff challenge trying to get through as one of those top four teams.

Much will depend on the pitching of Ellie Pamenter, and the hitting of Chloe Wigington and Amy Trask, both of whom will have been with the GB Juniors in Canada, could also be a key to GB success.

London Angels

European Women's Fastpitch Cup tournaments will take place around Europe during the week of August 15-20, and Britain's representative in the European Cup-Winners B Pool Cup in Dupnitsa, Bulgaria will be the London Angels, the top women's team in the London Fastpitch Softball League in 2010.

The Angels were relegated from the A Pool last year, where they faced some of the top club teams in Europe, and they may find things more congenial in the B Pool, where they will be up against teams from the Ukraine, France, Bulgaria, Denmark, Slovenia, Poland, Spain, Greece and Slovakia rather than Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic.

As usual, the Angels' roster for the Cup will include a number of GB Women's Team players, and the team will hope to have a strong tournament and come back with a medal.

Richings Park Men's Team

European competition will end after the Men's Fastpitch Cup tournaments take place during the week of August 22-27, and GB's representative in the European Men's Cup-Winners Cup in Prague will be Richings Park, made up of players from the two Richings Park men's teams in the London Fastpitch Softball League plus players from the GB Junior Men.

This will be the first time that Britain has entered a team in a European Men's Fastpitch Cup competition since 2001 (London Meteors won the Men's Cup in 1996) and it underlines the revival of men's fastpitch that has taken place in the UK over the past year thanks to the efforts of Stan Doney and many others.

The Richings Park team will face some stiff competition, including teams from Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Slovakia, but the team will have hopes of doing well following the semi-final place achieved by the London Meteors recently at the Zeisterslot Tournament in the Netherlands.

Good luck!

You can follow the progress of every GB national and club team abroad this summer on the BSF website.

We hope that all our teams have successful and enjoyable competitions.

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