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Club seeks wins on the field and OUA approval off of it

Gaels fastpitch finished fifth in the OIWFA in 2012.
Gaels fastpitch finished fifth in the OIWFA in 2012.

In a sport slowly becoming an afterthought, Queen’s is looking to continue their newfound success.

The Gaels fastpitch team reached new heights in 2012, qualifying for the Ontario Intercollegiate Women’s Fastpitch Association (OIWFA) championship weekend for the first time in four years, finishing in fifth place for the tournament.

Fastpitch is the most competitive form of softball, featuring nine players instead of the 10 used in slowpitch. Additional tactics such as bunting and stealing are allowed in the game. With 10 players returning from last year, the Gaels have had a strong start this season. They went 3-1 in their opening weekend, including a win on Saturday over Brock in extra innings.

“We’re hoping this year will be a new Queen’s team that other teams aren’t expecting,” said head coach Jillian Taylor. “Then, hopefully surprise some teams and win more games.”

Last year’s success served as a big step up for the team, established less than 10 years ago. At the time, university fastpitch had become a forgotten sport within Canada, bringing down the quality of the athletes in the country.

Before the OIWFA’s founding in 2002, there were limited options for top Canadian university fastpitch players. Either they went to the US or they stopped playing.

The introduction of the OIWFA helped bring attention back to fastpitch within the country, but a major obstacle still remains. The OIWFA isn’t affiliated with the OUA, despite all 12 of its teams being OUA members.

Taylor said the teams within the OIWFA are trying to get OUA status, working with their respective schools to try and create a league, which could provide better funding for the teams. While the team gets some money from the University, the players are responsible for paying for a large amount of the team’s expenses, according to Taylor.

“All the teams are trying to be within the OUA so that they get more money from their University and more support,” she said. “It’s hard for the athletes. They’re paying for university, and then they’re paying for the sport.”

A spot in the OUA would give the teams in the OIWFA increased visibility through the sponsorship connections that a position in the OUA would grant, which also improves the funding the team’s would receive.

The lack of recognition at the provincial level isn’t shocking, though. On the international stage, fastpitch has been viewed as being less important than most sports, even in an Olympic context.

An Olympic sport from 1996 to 2008, the International Olympic Committee removed fastpitch from the London Games in a vote in 2005. Last week, the sport failed to regain a spot in the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Taylor said the decision was a devastating blow for fastpitch in Canada and for the sport in general, adding that having fastpitch as an Olympic sport played a role in motivating young players.

“I feel like with it not being in the Olympics, it will hurt the sport,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate.” Despite the struggles impacting their sport, the fastpitch team at Queen’s still has a chance to succeed and build on their results last year.

“We’re pretty optimistic about this new year,” Taylor said. “We have a new outlook on how we’re going to approach this year in terms of practice and how we approach the games.”

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