BURNABY, B.C. (from SFU Clan) – For most teams, a two-week preseason trip to Australia would be seen as a luxury – an opportunity to experience a new country, to bond as a team, and to get a chance to play against some of the best talent that another country has to offer.
While all of that applies to the SFU Clan softball team, which will jet off to Sydney on Thursday after a brief stop in California, the main function of the trip is one of pure necessity: the Clan need playing time. After a rain-logged fall and winter on Burnaby Mountain, the SFU’s trip to the Land of Oz will be their first opportunity to shake off the rust and play on actual grass.
“Honestly, we just need to get outside – we call it our warm weather trip,” said Clan head coach Mike Renney. “We’re working indoors, and the highest fly ball we’ve seen is at the height of the gym roof. You get such limited bounce off the gym floor, and just can’t replicate the type of work you can put in on a real field. The reality is that we’re playing from behind already compared to some of the other teams in our conference, so we need to maximize every minute we get in Australia to put in as much time in with nice weather as we can.”
In the province of New South Wales until Feb. 16, the Clan will take part in a series of scrimmages against local “Open Teams”, a mix of Australian national and provincial-level players.
“I haven’t seen the rosters yet,” noted Renney. “So, it really depends on what the availability of the players are as we move closer to the actual day. We’re going to be based out of their regional training center in New South Wales. It should be a lot of fun.”
However, as focused as Renney is on the actual playing time, the man entering his 24th year at the Clan’s helm didn’t downplay the off-the-field impact a trip of this magnitude can have.
“It’s so important for us to get that opportunity to travel together, be together, and live together. That sense of familiarity is huge for a team trying to come together,” stated Renney. “Good leadership is key, and with the large class of seniors we have, we’re going to lean on them both on and off the field.”
With six seniors (Katherine Murnaghan, Taylor Lundrigan, Dallas Tilley, Taylor Gillis, Victoria Saunders, and Alia Stachoski) and five freshman (Kyra Watson, Megan Smith, Kate Fergusson, Hannah Boulanger, and Alex Ogg) making up the majority of his roster, Renney noted that the trip will serve as an important testing ground to get the rookies closer to game-speed, while making sure the vets are all ready to roll as their final seasons approach.
Simon Fraser finished 12-32 overall and 8-20 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference a year ago. The team is hoping to move up in the GNAC standings with its talented senior class leading the way. Infielder Lundrigan, from Abbotsford, BC., was a Second Team All-GNAC and National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-West Region selection after she led the Clan with a .396 batting average. She finished with 55 hits, 12 doubles, eight home runs and a .655 slugging percentage.
Outfielder Gillis of Langley, B.C. hit .318 last year while senior Alia Stachoski of Port Coquitlam, B.C. is the Clan’s top returning pitcher with a 5.27 earned run average in 110.1 innings.
Trips like these – Renney counts trips to Japan, Cuba, and a 2010 visit to Australia among his highlights – also serve a much larger purpose than just helping the current squad get in some playing time and bond off the field.
“It’s unique, and that’s something that adds a tremendous amount to the experience of our athletes during their time at SFU,” said Renney. “Obviously, competition and getting closer as a team is important, but we’re hopefully broadening the cultural experiences of our athletes by travelling to different countries, absorbing new cultures wherever we can.”
Before heading to Sydney, the Clan will stop off in La Mirada, Calif., for a game Tuesday against the Biola University Eagles.
The team’s first Great Northwest Athletic Conference doubleheader is scheduled for March 3 against the Montana State Billings Yellowjackets on Beedie Field in Burnaby.