Varsity Blues women's fast pitch team. Courtesy Martin Bazyl.

This October, U of T’s women’s fastpitch team won bronze at the Ontario Intercollegiate Women’s Fastpitch Association (OIWFA) championships held in Napanee.

Full of relatively young athletes, the medal marks the first time since 2011 that the women have placed on the podium. Coach Craig Sarson attributes this feat to the number of veteran players on the team, who not only played exceptional seasons, but also acted as role models for their younger teammates. 

“We’re carried by some tremendous veterans,” said Sarson. “We’re a different team now, less powerful, but a deeper, more rounded group.”

Fastpitch, which is not recognized under the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) or Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), holds yearly championships through the OIWFA.“Our OIWFA has done a lot for us and our sport,” said pitcher Renee Ridout, adding, “I love being a part of an organization that, while our sport struggles to be recognized, is actively trying to progress fastptich in university athletics.”

Ridout, who is in her last year with the team, is especially proud of the amount of growth the team experienced this year.

“We have a fantastic group of girls who, for two months, have to spend every waking hour together,” said Ridout who plays battery (pitcher/catcher duo) with her sister Danielle.

The OIWFA tournament started off slow for the team, who all cited inclement weather conditions as a major barrier for all teams in the tournament. “Fastpitch (like baseball) is a very mental game,” said Ridout. “We really had to work hard to focus ourselves.”

In their first game of the championship against the Queen’s Gaels, the women dropped a sizeable lead and eventually lost 10-5. This is when the team knew they needed to switch things up.

“I think we were all concerned about our chances in the tournament,” said second-year pitcher Taisley Isaac. “We didn’t bring the team we normally do in that game.” Luckily, the team was able to shake off the loss and come back to win against the Windsor Lancers the next day, 13-1.

“We knew we had the potential to bring home a medal, so we pushed each other to win,” said Nicole Knudsen, who also felt the pressure after the loss to Queen’s. “I was worried,” she admitted, “but our team knew that we had to win… so we did.”

The team then pulled off an exciting win against the Ottawa Gee Gees, 4-1, to win the bronze medal. The matchup was something Sarson and the team were prepared for. “Playing against Ottawa was a matchup we always liked,” he said, citing standouts like Isaac and the Ridout sisters as major contributors to the match. “Everything went according to plan, and the offence did what it was supposed to do. The defence was great, and we played as good a game as we’ve played all year, a total team effort.”

When asked about their favourite plays of the season, Ridout, Isaac, and Knusden all recall plays from championship games.

At one point during the bronze medal game, play was stopped for the playing of “O Canada” on a neighbouring pitch, which was problematic for Isaac. “It was so cold out though and we did not have our warm-ups on so before the next play I had to go over to my short stop, Mercedes Roddau, and ask her to hug my shoulder to warm it up again so that I could pitch.” Ridout remembers her sister’s last pitch of the bronze medal match as her favourite play, while Knusden notes the entire tournament as the best part of her season.

Although the women are now experiencing a much-deserved break to focus on midterms and exams, Sarson says that we can expect to see 15 women back on the field next season, and that the team will hopefully continue to generate medals for the Blues even though they’re currently in search of a catcher. “We’re hunting for a catcher in our recruiting, but I believe we’ll have the roster to contend for medals in the future.”

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