Women's softball team waves to crowd

Team Canada ready to get going in softball’s Olympic return

Thirteen years after the last Olympic softball tournament, Team Canada is ready to go for gold at Tokyo 2020.

The roster of 15 players includes four players who were on that last Olympic team which finished fourth at Beijing 2008 Danielle Lawrie, Kaleigh Rafter, Lauren Regula and Jenn Salling. Regula will be headed to her third Olympic Games, having also competed at Athens 2004.

  • Danielle Lawrie prepares to pitch the ball
  • Kaleigh Rafter runs the bases with a smile
  • Lauren Regular prepares to pitch a ball
  • Jenn Salling stands by fence

That quartet will be joined in this year’s Olympic tournament by Jenna Caira, Emma Entzminger, Larissa Franklin, Jennifer Gilbert, Sara Groenewegen, Kelsey Harshman, Victoria Hayward, Janet Leung, Joey Lye, Erika Polidori, and Natalie Wideman.

Nine of those players were part of Canada’s memorable gold medal in front of the home fans at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games when they defeated Team USA in the final. It was Canada’s first women’s softball gold medal at the Pan Am Games since 1983.

In 2018, Canada won bronze at the WBSC World Championships in Chiba, Japan, defeating the host nation to take their spot on the podium. The only players on the Olympic team who weren’t on that roster are Groenewegen and Regula.

  • Emma Entzminger fields the ball in infield
  • Larissa Franklin swings the bat
  • Jennifer Gilbert swings the bat at the ball
  • Sara Groenewegen pitching the ball
  • Joey Lye raises both arms in celebration

At the time, Regula was still in the early days of a comeback after ending an eight-year retirement in 2016. She was also seeking treatment for serious postpartum depression, which she battled for six years and is now opening up about as she feels she has a “new lease on life”.

Groenewegen was in the midst of her own medical emergency. Diagnosed with Legionnaires disease, she was placed in a medically induced coma for 10 days and was hospitalized while her teammates competed halfway across the world. She detailed her incredible story in a first-person article for Olympic.ca in November 2020.

READ: Softball star Sara Groenewegen: “Being an athlete saved my life”

Rafter and Salling have been stalwarts on the national team since their first Olympic appearance. They contributed to Canada’s bronze medals at the world championships in 2010 and 2016. It was Rafter who hit the walkoff homerun that clinched Canada’s Olympic berth for the upcoming Games. 

Lawrie – like Regula – had retired and started a family. But in 2017, when word came that softball was being reinstated at the Olympic Games, she decided she wanted another go at winning the Olympic medal that had eluded her when she was 21.

Then there are players like Caira and Hayward, who both joined the national team in 2009. Hayward was just 16 at the time, the youngest ever member of the senior squad. They will finally make their Olympic debuts after more than a decade of dedication at the highest level.

READ: Team Canada softball ready for the play of a lifetime at Tokyo 2020

At the opposite end of the spectrum are Entzminger, Harshman and Leung who all first suited up for the national team after the historic victory at the 2015 Pan Am Games but have since become core contributors to Canada’s success.

  • Jenna Caira, throws against the USA
  • Victoria Hayward watches the ball she hit
  • Janet Leung of Canada plays the ball against the United States in the women's softball final at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games
  • Erika Polidori at bat
  • Natalie Wideman holds bat on shoulders while posing for camera
  • 4 members of women's Team Canada's softball team cheering

After winning silver at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Canada booked its ticket to Tokyo 2020 at the WBSC Americas Olympic Qualifier on September 1, 2019. In front of the partisan crowd in Surrey, B.C., Canada topped its group with a 5-0 record and then went 4-1 in the Super Round, securing the needed top-two finish in the tournament with 7-0 five-inning mercy rule win against Brazil in their final game.

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Canada heads into the six-team Olympic tournament ranked third in the world behind the United States and Japan. Mexico (5th in world ranking), Australia (8th in world ranking) and Italy (10th in world ranking) round out the field.

Canada will open the round robin two days before the Opening Ceremony with a game against Mexico, the only team they lost to at the WBSC Americas Qualifier, on July 21. The next day features an anticipated showdown against their American rivals. Both of those games will take place at the Fukushima Azuma Stadium, about 300km north of Tokyo.

After a day off for the Opening Ceremony, competition resumes on July 24 with a game against Australia. Canada plays Japan on July 25 and Italy on July 26. The bronze and gold medal games will be played on July 27. All of those games will take place at the Yokohama Stadium, about a half hour drive south of central Tokyo.

Softball team celebrates as streamers fall from sky
Canada’s Emma Entzminger, from left to right, Erika Polidori, Sara Groenewegen, Larissa Franklin, Danielle Lawrie and Jenna Caira celebrate after defeating Brazil during playoff action at the Softball Americas Olympic Qualifier tournament in Surrey, B.C., on Sunday September 1, 2019. With the win Canada qualifies for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Women’s softball was included at four Olympic Games from Atlanta 1996 to Beijing 2008. Canada competed in each of those tournaments, with the near miss of the podium in Beijing as its best-ever finish.

Softball and baseball are back on the Olympic program as sports proposed by the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee. They will not be included at the next Olympic Games at Paris 2024, making this summer’s tournament a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of Canada’s top softball players.

Team Canada Softball Athletes at Tokyo 2020:

Jenna Caira (Toronto, ON) – Pitcher
Emma Entzminger (Victoria, BC) – Infield
Larissa Franklin (Maple Ridge, BC) – Outfield
Jennifer Gilbert (Saskatoon, SK) – Outfield
Sara Groenewegen (Surrey, BC) – Pitcher
Kelsey Harshman (Delta, BC) – Infield
Victoria Hayward (Toronto, ON) – Outfield
Danielle Lawrie (Langley, BC) – Pitcher
Janet Leung (Mississauga, ON) – Infield
Joey Lye (Toronto, ON) – Utility
Erika Polidori (Brantford, ON) – Outfield
Kaleigh Rafter (Guelph, ON) – Catcher
Lauren Regula (Trail, BC) – Pitcher
Jenn Salling (Port Coquitlam, BC) – Infield
Natalie Wideman (Mississauga, ON) – Catcher