Harbour city gears up for Easter classic

Kingsley Collins

23 March 2018

 

With major works underway at Canberra’s Narrabundah Ballpark, baseball focus over Easter will be on the magnificent Waurn Ponds complex in Geelong, where the local association and its affiliate clubs will play host to the 2018 National Women's Championship and Youth Women’s Championship.

 

A major event on the Australian baseball calendar, the Women’s Nationals will showcase the very best in senior talent while offering players the opportunity to impress officials charged with selection of an Emeralds squad to contest the Women’s World Cup in Florida during August.

 

For the younger players, the tournament presents the ideal opportunity to gain invaluable playing experience under the tutelage of experienced coaching staff all committed to the development of women’s baseball from grassroots through to elite level.  

 

Running from 30 March through to 6 April, the Women’s Nationals will be contested between seven teams, with Victoria Blue seeking to defend its title against squads from Western Australia (2017 runner-up), New South Wales, New South Wales Country, Victoria White, Queensland and South Australia – which will be managed by Australian Head Coach Simone Wearne.

 

“It’s been a great experience coaching the SA girls,” Simone Wearne told Australian Baseball Alumni this week. “There are a lot of girls playing baseball in South Australia at the moment, and they are still learning about the game. They have been working hard in preparation, and although we are likely not going to be in quite the same league as some of the top teams at the tournament, I’m really hoping the girls can put into play some of what they have been learning to enable them to stay in games a little longer than they did last year.”

 

A wonderfully dedicated person from a superb baseball family, Simone Wearne took on the challenge of coaching South Australia with the broader interests of women’s baseball in mind. Her expectations for both her own team and what she anticipates in Geelong are tempered by realism and a definite optimism.

 

“My expectation of the girls is that they turn up and play hard every day, and take something from each game that can ultimately help them be a better player in the future – and in turn, help the South Australia team get better over time,” she said. “It is likely the hard work they are doing this year will not totally show on the field in Geelong, but I strongly believe it will be a big stepping stone to future tournaments for them. That’s what we want. We want the team to be more competitive every year, and provide more competition for the other states.”

 

“Ultimately, those things are not just going to assist the girls in South Australia - they are going to help women’s baseball in this country as a whole. That is what we are all about.”

 

Describing it as “a pleasure” to have been working with Baseball South Australia, Simone Wearne believes that the state is definitely on the right track as it seeks to set the base for consistently solid performances at the National Championship.

 

“South Australia is really showing a great commitment to women’s - and girls - baseball over there,” she said. “They want to be better and more professional when it comes to their women’s state team. I have absolutely loved the chance to work with Tank and Davo, and also the other SA-based coaches over there, in Lawrie Moore and Julie Wadham.” 

“I owe a huge thanks to South Australia for allowing me the opportunity to be part of their programme. I really hope I am able to continue with them in some capacity moving forward, because they are certainly on the right track.”

Already familiar with the players and the playing capacity of the teams entered for the National Women’s Championship, Simone Wearne is expecting a hard-fought tournament, with well-performed states from previous years looking strong.

 

“I am hoping it’s a very tight tournament this year, but you can’t look past Victoria,” she said. “They have great depth on the pitching mound, and in women’s baseball, history would suggest that if your pitching staff can get it done by throwing around the zone consistently, limiting walks/HPBs and providing the field with consistent defensive opportunities – then that team will likely take the win.”

 

“I do think that Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland will all be around the mark, and all three of those teams have the depth of players to battle with Victoria. But again, I think the team which can be the most consistent on the mound will get it done.”

 

“I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds,” Wearne said.

 

The addition of Western Australia will create a five-team competition in the Youth Championship, which is scheduled from 30 March to 2 April and includes other entries in reigning champion New South Wales, New South Wales Country, Queensland and Victoria.

 

“It’s great that Western Australia are back in this tournament,” Simone Wearne said. “Honestly, I think all the states are getting on board and understand the importance of really driving the junior girls’ programmes.”

 

“And It’s not necessarily even about ‘girls’ as such - it’s about the number of players involved in baseball. There are a lot of young girls out there who want to play baseball, but in the past we have either made it more difficult for girls, or have not provided any opportunities - particularly around development. We all want baseball to grow, and I think offering junior girls more opportunities will simply assist with the growth of the game overall – not just girls or women’s baseball,” she said.

 

“I know that New South Wales and South Australia, particularly, are really driving development opportunities for young girls. The more we can be increasing opportunities for our young players to train and play – while providing good coaching - the better off we will all be.”

A fervent believer in the states working collaboratively along with Baseball Australia to drive the game forward, Simone Wearne can see great potential for progress in the years ahead.

 

“The ability to utilise our resources and do the best we can do to support and drive girls’ baseball forward is really important - and it’s essential if we want to keep getting better. If we can find a way to really grow our junior girls program nationally, then the success of our Emeralds program in 2020 and beyond will be very positive,” she said.

 

While we can expect spirited competition at both the Women’s Nationals and the Youth Nationals, special attention will be directed towards identifying prospects to represent Australia as it embarks on another World Cup campaign – this time in Florida during August of 2018.

 

“There will be a squad selected at the conclusion of the National Women’s Championship, with that group to be announced by Baseball Australia on either Monday 9 April or Tuesday 10 April,” Wearne said.

 

“We are unsure of the total number of players that will be selected - that will be determined based on performances at Nationals - but it will be a group of players that will make up two teams which are split position-based, and those players will be invited to a selection camp to be held in a regional centre in Australia in early June.” 

 

“There is more information about to be released shortly around this opportunity,” she said, “but basically the players will be heavily involved in game play and will be given an additional opportunity on top of the National Championships to prove they can perform at the next level.” 

 

“It will be great to have the event in a regional area, and we believe game play will be a great way of really testing our players prior to selecting the final team.”

 

Already boasting an impressive record at international level – including a silver medal in 2010, a bronze in 2014 and four fourth-placed finishes – Australia will field what is expected to be a somewhat revamped outfit to compete against powerhouse nations including Japan, a five-time gold medallist. Well-placed to assess our chances as a long-serving and vastly experienced player and women’s team coach, Simone Wearne is excited about Australia’s prospects as we move into a new generation of playing personnel.

 

“We lost half our team from 2014 (Japan) when we travelled to the 2016 World Cup in Korea two years ago,” she said. “That was always going to be a challenge for us, but we showed some real positives over there, even though our fifth placed result wasn’t what we believe to be a true indication of where we sit in comparison to other countries.”

 

“We have some very good players here in Australia, it’s really just been our lack of consistency in the past that has hindered our results at the highest level,” she continued. “It’s something we continue to work on.”

 

“We still have some players who have been around at World Cup level with the Emeralds programme for a long time, and if they can perform over the coming months, they will no doubt help us with some on field experience at the elite level.”

 

Wearne believes the litmus test for Australia this time around will be the development of some of the younger players, including some who were at the event two years ago and probably did not perform to the level that they would have liked.

 

“I have no doubt if they get another chance, they will be looking to change those results,” she said. 

 

“Outside of that, there are a number of other players – younger and older – who are pressing for selection this year. We have some returning to the fold after time off, and also some additional younger and more ‘veteran’ players putting their hands up for selection. The Nationals will be a huge opportunity for players to show their stuff, and I can’t wait to see what the players have been doing in the lead up as part of their state programmes.”  

 

While participation at the National Championship will be the pinnacle for many of our domestic baseball players – who will in turn be striving to represent their country at the 2018 World Cup - there is plenty more about which we should be excited as women’s baseball continues to gain traction due largely to the effort of committed persons throughout the land.

 

“There has been a lot going on in women’s baseball over the past couple of years,” Simone Wearne explained. “Our Diamonds in the Rough program over the past two years has provided significant opportunities for both players and coaches – importantly, opportunities that have not previously been available. Exposure to international travel, game play and increased opportunity to develop as people off the field has been amazing for our programme.”

“We have an Emeralds Futures programme - in its second year - that has offered a great opportunity for young players to be really closely linked to some of the girls who have played at World Cup level.  We have eight to ten of the 2016 Emeralds team who have been working really hard as mentors to a group of around fifty young players from across the country.” 

 

“Providing the chance for those players to have conversations, ask questions, and really learn more about how they go about their training and preparation – that’s huge for us,” she said. “Particularly when we look to the World Cup in two, four, six years and further into the future.”

 

“We will continue to look for more on-field opportunities for our girls. Ultimately, we need to be playing more baseball if we want to compete at the highest level. We are facing countries who have their own pro or semi-pro leagues now, and we still have players who are only able to play 15 – 20 game seasons and have no on-field opportunities at all over winter.”

 

Among those looking to drive winter academy programmes across the various states, Simone Wearne believes that the girls need to be challenged by playing against the very best – as the elite boys already are - to help maximise development opportunities.

 

“We are also looking for ways to get some of our players to Japan and potentially the USA during the middle of this year as extra preparation for the World Cup - and as an additional opportunity for our up and coming players to travel and play overseas,” she said. “While there is nothing locked in at this stage, there are a lot of conversations taking place in the background that are all based around us providing as much opportunity for our players to be ready to perform at World Cup level – whether that be 2018, 2020 or beyond.”

 

Looking forward to the challenge of the National Women’s Championship at Easter – in her dual roles as South Australian and Australian Head Coach - Simone Wearne was generous in her acknowledgment of Boral and Bendigo Bank as major sponsors of women’s baseball.

 

“Boral has been amazing in supporting the Emeralds over the past few years,” she said, “and Bendigo has also been fantastic.”

 

“They are two big organisations getting behind women’s and girls’ baseball, helping us to drive our programmes forward with real confidence. It is all very, very positive, and on behalf of the players and staff involved in the Emeralds programme I have to say a massive thank you.” 

 

 

Australian Baseball Alumni extends its appreciation to Simone Wearne for her assistance in the preparation of this story. We wish all teams the very best for an enjoyable and successful experience at the National Women’s Championship and the Youth Women’s Championship over the Easter break. Baseball Australia will be providing comprehensive coverage of both events.

 

 

LINKS:

 

WOMEN’S NATIONALS HOME PAGE (Schedule, Rosters, Scoring and Results)

 

YOUTH WOMEN’S NATIONALS HOME PAGE (Schedule, Rosters, Scoring and Results)

Victoria celebrates its 2017 title

(image: Baseball Australia)

New South Wales will defend its 2017 Youth title

(image: Baseball Australia)

Diamonds in the Rough in Indonesia 2017

(image: Baseball Australia)