The #SummerOfSoftball starts early in Australia with the Under 18 Men’s National Championship taking place at Blacktown International Sportspark, Sydney from 8-14 December.
New Zealand will host the 2020 U18 Men’s Softball World Cup from 22 February – 1 March in Palmerston North, meaning the first Australian champion of the summer will be crowned before Christmas.
The early start gives selectors a chance to cast their eye over the state teams before making a final decision on the team of 16 to don the green and gold across the Tasman for the Junior Steelers.
While the tournament in Blacktown is the last chance for players to put their hands up for selection, newly appointed Head Coach Adam Rindfleish says the Men’s Coaching Panel have been keeping a close eye on tournaments throughout the past few years.
“It's a combination of a lot of things that will make up the final team, the key players around the country have been earmarked for a long time,” said Rindfleish.
“They've competed at Nationals, Friendship Series, they've been on tours over to New Zealand in friendly matches just under 12 months ago, but the very last of the selections to be made will be at the Nationals in December.
“So it's not just going to be if you play well at Nationals, you get to go, it will be a combination of all those previous tournaments where they've shown their various skills and talent.”
Of those eligible for selection, only one player will have the added benefit of experience in an international tournament of the calibre set for New Zealand in 2020, Queenslander Riley James was part of the victorious Australian side who won the 2018 U19 World Championship in Canada.
Then aged 16, James was the youngest in the team and if selected will bring that big game experience to what will almost be an entirely new group.
“He certainly is a high performing athlete and he's been doing some great stuff since that world championship and, if he was to be included, he would certainly bring some previous knowledge of competing at that level,” added Rindfleish.The experience would prove invaluable, especially given the short turnaround between team selection and the World Cup in February 2020.
However, Rindfleish is confident the group of young men will certainly be prepared come tournament time by planning well ahead.
He says the players will need to steel themselves over the Christmas break and be dedicated to their individual preparations in order to put themselves in the best position to win Gold once again.
“That short turnaround is not concerning. It just means that the players need to be more focussed on their training and have to be a little bit more dedicated to get to their absolute potential by the time the World Cup rolls around.
“In terms of the training program, they've all been written by our coaching staff, and we also have exciting times with some external people helping to weigh in on the training program.
“So really, it's going to be a complete preparation, just in a shorter timeframe and I'm not worried about that at all, all it means is that our team will have to be a tad more focussed for a quicker preparation process.”
Given the nature of the Junior World Cup, Rindfleish says it's difficult to pinpoint who will be the team to beat but admitted hosts New Zealand and last year’s runners up Japan will be tough once again.
“It's very hard to say who the top teams will be simply because every time a Junior Worlds rolls around, it pretty much is a new set of players and a new squad.
“At the last Junior Worlds it was Japan who were our biggest adversaries finishing second to us so I’ll be looking out for them as well as New Zealand but you really can't be taking your eye off countries like Canada as well. They’re all a good showing because they play a lot of softball throughout the year across all age groups.”
The Junior Steelers team to be selected are set to benefit from Rindfleish’s international coaching experience at both the junior and senior level.
With four World Championships under his belt, he says he’s excited to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of Aussie Steelers and hopefully bring back another Gold medal.
“It's an amazing opportunity and I’m excited to pass on the knowledge I’ve acquired over the many years I’ve been a Head Coach within Australia and as an Assistant Coach at the world championship level,” added Rindfleish.
“I'm excited to get to pass that knowledge on to the players, and staff members and hopefully share some success with them. As a coach in sport, I feel your greatest achievement is never your own; your greatest achievement is to see the athletes that you put your blood, sweat and tears and your experience into doing well.
“There's nothing more satisfying than being able to pass that knowledge on to an individual and see that come together at any tournament, whether that be at the Nationals or a World Cup.”
Something he hopes to instil in the new Junior Steelers is the same team culture they can expect should they progress to the Open Men’s Australian team.
Rindfleish says the professional culture is something that begins with the coaching staff before the players adopt it, particularly at the junior level.
“One thing that we have had for a number of years now is a similar culture for the Junior Steelers as the Aussie Steelers. We've had a very close fraternity of coaches where we all talk to each other, and Laing Harrow, who was the previous Head Coach of the junior and men teams, brought a lot of that culture there. So it’s made it quite a seamless transition for me and that's really, really important.
“It is not anything outrageous, it's just playing professionally and it's having the right standards and the right motivation and conducting yourself as Australian representatives of softball, the culture is what you would expect from a professional sportsman. “It’s a team having common goals and common purpose and a common strategic plan. And if everybody's on the same page, that's the culture.”
The draw for the U18 Men's National Championship is available now at softball.org.au.
Tickets for the U18 Men's National Championship are available at the gate, for more information, visit www.softball.org.au.
About the National Championships
The Summer of Softball begins early this year with the U18 Men’s National Championship played at Blacktown International Sportspark from 8 - 14 December 2019, followed by the Open Women’s National Championship and U14 Girls' Regional Championship from 4 - 10 January at Mirrabooka International Softball Stadium in Perth, Western Australia.
The U16 Boys' and Girls' National Championships take place at Waverley, Victoria from 4 - 10 January, the Open Men’s National Championship and U14 Boys' Regional Championship are held in the nation’s capital at Hawker from 12 - 18 January before the U18 Women’s National Championship wraps up Australian titles back at Blacktown International Sportspark from 19 - 25 January.International softball then takes centre stage at Blacktown with the Asia Pacific Cup from 30 January - 2 February, ahead of the exciting Summer Slam - Fully Loaded Softball from 3 - 5 February.
Tickets for both events are available for purchase now via Humanitix.
To purchase tickets to the Asia Pacific Cup, please visit www.humanitix.com.au/
To purchase tickets to the Summer Slam – Fully Loaded Softball, please visit www.humanitix.com.au/
For an editorial image, please click here. Please credit WBSC.