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White Sox begin long journey to 2028 Olympics goal with tri-series featuring top Kiwi softball talent

The White Sox are taking their first step to the long-term goal of qualifying for the 2028 Olympic Games with a tri-series this weekend featuring New Zealand’s top women’s softball talent.

White Sox players celebrate with captain Lara Andrews (9) after her home run against Australia at the 2019 Asia Pacific Cup. Source: 1 NEWS

The White Sox along with a New Zealand A squad and the Junior White Sox [under-18s] will play in a six-match series featuring 44 of the top female players in the country at Auckland’s Rosedale Park starting this Saturday.

The series will be White Sox head coach Roman Gabriel’s first chance to work with players in a national setting since being appointed last December before the Covid-19 pandemic hampered the softball calendar.

Gabriel, a former Black Sox infielder and 2004 world champion, said he’s excited to finally start working with the group.

“It’s been a long time coming but finally we are able to get together as a full squad,” Gabriel said.

“I am very happy we have this opportunity to see our athletes play. From our under 18s to our full White Sox squad, I think there should be some good games.

“The players might be a little rusty being early in the season but we are hoping the work we have asked them to do, on their own over the winter due to restrictions caused by Covid-19 will pay off and they play some good ball.”

Fourteen women have been selected for the White Sox and a further 13 players to the NZ A team.

Meanwhile the Junior White Sox – who were supposed to travel to Peru earlier this year for the under-18 world championships before they were delayed until 2021 by Covid-19 – will feature 17 of New Zealand’s best up and coming talent.

Former White Sock and Olympian Kiri Shaw, who is now the head coach of the junior team, said the weekend will serve as a good opportunity to reunite her squad after their plans were derailed earlier this year.

Members of the Junior White Sox invitational team stand together at the Wayne Roper Memorial tournament in Auckland. Source: Supplied / Arthur Images

“This has been hard for our young girls mentally but we’ve made sure to maintain positives and cater to their mental needs,” Shaw said.

“We’ve been training [in groups] regionally for quite some time now… but we’re super excited to finally come together and play some ball.

“For us, it’s a time to reset and kickstart what will be a four-or-five-month journey towards the world championships because we’re remaining positive that it will happen.”

Gabriel said he expects plenty of competition between the three squads, with leaders in both the senior teams helping to establish the culture he wants to carry forward in their goal of making the 2028 Olympics.

“I am so excited about the two leaders we have selected. Lara Andrews being named captain of the White Sox and Rebecca Bromhead the Vice-Captain who will Captain the NZ A team at this event. I think these two will lead our squad to the next level.”

White Sox batter Lara Andrews swings at the 2019 Asia Pacific Cup. Source: 1 NEWS

Shaw said she expects her girls to give the seniors a run for their money as well.

“We may actually have a head start because we’ve been preparing for months for the original world championships,” she said.

“So now, our thinking is let’s go and celebrate. Let’s celebrate that we’re back playing again and get excited to pit ourselves against the seniors.”

Shaw added it’s also been great to establish a collegial goal with Gabriel about qualifying for the 2028 Olympics knowing many of her current crop will be in the running for spots for that squad.

“I’m excited for these girls and the next crop of girls,” Shaw said.

“All these girls are capable of being there in 2028 – they’ll only be between 21 and 25 – so for us, it’s been about encouraging them to take opportunities to showcase themselves when they get chances.”

Softball was featured at the Olympics from 1996 to 2008 before it was removed. In that time, New Zealand only competed once at the 2000 Games in Sydney where they finished sixth.

The sport was then brought back for this year’s Tokyo Games which the White Sox attempted to qualify for last September but faltered with losses to China, Korea and the Philippines under former coach Kevin Gettins.

New Zealand White Sox

Tyla Morrison, Kyla Bromhead, Mereana Makea, Krysta Hoani, Tyneesha Houkamau (Auckland), Otila Tavite, Pallas Potter, Ashley Johnston, Lara Andrews (C), Mikayla Lewin (Hutt Valley), Amy Begg, Nerissa McDowell, Mikayla Werahiko, Lucy McIntyre (Canterbury)

New Zealand A

Loran Parker, Brooke Whiteman, Ashley Scott, Rebecca Bromhead (C), Tenille Auimatagi, Pearl-Marli Waetford (Auckland), Denva Shaw-Tait, Yvonne Burgess, Erin Blackmore, Nanaia Matangi (Hutt Valley), Emma Francis, Hope Weber (Wellington), Brittany Terrey (Canterbury).

New Zealand Junior White Sox

Megan Sneddon, Maddison Gerbes, Shyah Hale, Lily Neilsen, Mikayla Cross, Meeki Cooper Nicole, Kiara Lei-lani Taimai, Innika Lambert-Hapuku (Auckland), Lace Tangianau, Caitlyn Lewin, Maarire Puketapu, Kimihia Tangianau, Kiri Winiata-Enoka (Hutt Valley), Beyoncé Rehutai, Shyann Wairau (Wellington), Cherie Inwood, Alyssa Lory (Canterbury)

Labour Weekend Tri-Series Schedule

Sat 24 Oct: 5pm & 7pm - NZA vs JWSX, NZA vs JWSX
Sun 25 Oct: 5pm & 7pm - WSX vs JWSX, WSX vs NZA
Mon 26 Oct: 11am & 1pm - WSX vs JWSX, WSX vs NZA