YORKTON - When Canada’s national women’s softball team takes to the field at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama on July 9, it will be a team very much into a rebuild.
The team had competed at the Summer Olympics last summer in July winning bronze, and since that time there has been a number of retirements with players not ready to commit to waiting until the 2028 Olympics in Los Angles for another shot at gold – the sport is not on the 2024 roster in France.
One veteran who is still in the fold is pitcher Morgan Rackel. The 25-year-old pitcher is suddenly a veteran of the team, one with something to prove.
In the mix for the Olympic team, when the final roster was chosen Rackel was not among the 15 selected.
“I was an alternate. I never actually got to play in the Games,” she said.
While some players might resent the decision Rackel was more philosophical.
“I went all-in,” she said in terms of her effort to make the Olympic squad, and as she looks back on that effort she added “it left me with no regrets.”
In fact, the effort was one which Rackel said made her “appreciate what determination it takes.”
And, so Rackel said she grew to understand her role with the Canadian program, being ready for a call that unfortunately did not come for an Olympic spot.
“It’s a very special position being an Olympic alternate,” she said, adding it is both rarer than a roster player and “more difficult” because of the need to be sharp and knowing you still likely won’t play.
One thing that made the situation more bearable was that the team was a close group, near family, resulting from spending eight months together because of COVID, a situation which created a tight bond for the players.
When interviewed on a day of a brief Celebration Tour series against World number 11 ranked Czech Republic in Saskatchewan – with stops in Melfort, Prince Albert and Saskatoon -- on the eve of the World Games Rackel she said the event takes on some added meaning with France choosing not to include softball when they host the next Summer Olympics.
And the World Games have meant Rackel’s role has turned a full 180. For the Olympics she was not one of the four pitchers carried and now she’s on top of the staff.
“I have to lead all the newbies. I have to help them understand what’s it’s like to play with Canada on your chest,” she said.
And, Rackel has to lead from the bullpen, where she is evolving into the team’s closer, where she is being asked to come in and settle things when they get rocky, or the game is on the line.
“I have to try to pick up my teammates,” she said.
Rackel has to do that with Natalie Wideman now her catcher as long-time back stop Kaleigh Rafter retired after the Olympic bronze medal to take over as the team’s head coach.
“At first it was kind of weird (having Rafter as coach). There was some adjustment, I’m not going to lie,” said Rackel, who added the team used to joke calling her ‘coach Rafter’.
“Catchers are leaders on the field,” said Rackel, adding in Rafter they have a coach “who is so knowledgeable about the game, adding past players Joey Lye and Jenn Salling add to the coaching staff too.
“They’re helping us continue the culture we had,” she said, adding as former players they “understand the athlete so well.”
Team Canada (number-3 in the WBSC World Rankings) will open the World Games July 9, against number- 6 Chinese Taipei, followed by number 7- Italy July 10 and against the top-rated United States July 11. The other pool includes Japan (No. 2), Mexico (No. 4), Puerto Rico (No. 5) and Australia (No. 8). The top two teams from each pool will advance to the semi-finals.
Rackel said the team obviously hopes to be on the podium at the end of the World Games, but added they are a young squad in a rebuild.
“We’re coming together, figuring our stuff out,” she said, adding for a number of players it will be learning how to play in a high level, high pressure tournament.”
While the World Games are great, it is the Summer Olympics players want to participate in. So will Rackel be around in 2028?
“That’s a question I ask myself almost every day,” she said, adding she isn’t committing to be there, but neither is she ruling out. “As long as I love the sport I’m going to keep playing, but there’s no expectation I make 2028.”