In what might be the country’s only direct qualification for a team sport for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, the national ladies softball squad will be looking for prominence.
They leave on Thursday for the 2019 Pan American Championships, set for August 25 to September 1, in what is known as ‘Softball City’ – Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.
The Bahamas will be one of 12 nations looking for direct qualification for the 2020 Olympics, as only the two finishers in the week-long tournament will qualify, joining host nation Japan and the United States as four of the six nations to be qualified for Tokyo 2020. The tournament also positions teams for several future tournaments, inclusive of the world championships.
Set to represent The Bahamas are pitchers Thela Johnson (Wildcats), Ramona Hanna (Wildcats), Brendia Ferguson (Lady Warriors) and Valencia Gibson (college student); infielders Larikah Russell (Wildcats), Daria Cambridge (Wildcats), Eilyah Johnson (Lady Warriors), Mia Turner (Lady Warriors) and Shawnte Curtis (college student); catchers Shervette Taylor (Brackettes) and Sophia Cartwright (Mingoes); and outfielders Melinda Bastian (Lady Warriors), Dewayna Pratt (Brackettes), Altavia Hall (college student) and Javanthe Rose (college student).
Yvonne Lockhart will manage the team, and the coaches are Shane Albury, Anthony Bullard and Nerissa Lockhart. The two Lockharts are from Grand Bahama, and Albury and Bullard are from New Providence.
“We didn’t have much time to work with the team, but we are going to do the best that we can,” said Albury yesterday. “A number of players were invited to try out for the team. Several players were selected despite not being able to practice with the team due to college, travel, etc. The majority of the players are New Providence-based, with one player from Grand Bahama. We had several other players who would have made the team, but due to college commitments, they were unable to travel.”
Team Bahamas will play out of Group A with World No. 3 Canada, No. 4 Puerto Rico, No. 17 Cuba, No. 18 Guatemala and No. 25 Argentina. Team Bahamas is ranked at number 39 in the world, so it is a no-brainer that their work is definitely cut out for them. Group B includes No. 5 Mexico, No. 14 Brazil, No. 16 Venezuela, No. 19 Dominican Republic, No. 20 Peru and No. 57 British Virgin Islands (BVI).
Following a five-day opening round, the top three squads from each group will advance to the super round. The two teams with the best overall records from the super round will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Team Bahamas will play its first game of the 2019 Pan American Championships against Guatemala on Sunday night. That game is scheduled to get underway at 10:30 p.m. local time here in The Bahamas. They will play Cuba the following day and Puerto Rico after that.
The best female softballers from 12 countries across North America, South America and the Caribbean, including host nation Canada, will compete for the ‘Olympic’ dream in Surrey.
The event is sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), and 42 games will be played over eight days of competition.
“This international competition in Surrey will be one of the most important softball tournaments ever held in the Americas, granting two precious spots to the historic return of softball at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020,” said WBSC Softball Division Chairman Tommy Velazquez on the event’s website. “Today, the road to Tokyo is clear for our softball athletes across the Americas and what they need to accomplish to fulfill their Olympic dreams.”
The tournament was initially set to feature 16 teams, but the United States has been exempted as a result of already qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in softball, and three other nations have pulled out. By virtue of winning the 2018 Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, Japan, the United States earned an automatic qualifying spot for the 2020 Olympics.
The WBSC governs softball and baseball worldwide and was instrumental in getting both sporting disciplines re-instated in the Olympic program for 2020. All of the powerhouse nations in this region, with the exception of the U.S., will take part in the Pan American Championships.
Surrey played host to the Women’s Softball World Championships in 2016 and now is set to host another major event. Team Bahamas will be one of a dozen nations taking part. The team’s final practice session at home was held last night at the Baillou Hills Sporting Complex.