By JOE McFARLAND
She may be just 17 years old, but Madison Willan has already put together a sports resume many veteran athletes would be jealous of.
Willan is hoping to add to that list of accomplishments as she joins Team Alberta for the 2018 Women’s Invitational Baseball Championships in Montreal July 5-8. Not only will the tournament showcase the talents of the province’s women, including Nicole Luchanski, Kelsey Lalor and Alexis Galloway. It could pave the way for a tryout for Canada’s National Women’s Team.
The end-goal: the Women’s Baseball World Cup in Viera, Florida.
“It would be a huge honour to be a part of that group of girls,” Willan told Alberta Dugout Stories about getting to what she thinks will be a veteran-laden national squad. “They are all so incredibly kind and they all push each other to get better and that’s the kind of environment you want to be in.”
The national stage is nothing new to Willan and not just in baseball. The Edmontonian is also fresh off a championship in a second sport.
SHE SHOOTS, SHE SCORES!
In a generation seemingly obsessed with the idea of specialization in sports, Willan is proving you can do it all. And she’s doing it at a high level.
In Bridgewater, Nova Scotia this past April, she helped the St. Albert Slash repeat as Esso Cup champions. Willan scored the eventual game-winning goal in the second period as they beat the Saskatoon Stars 2-1.
— Nicole Luchanski (@Luch_5) April 29, 2018
“It was just an amazing experience,” the forward recalled. “We overcame a lot of adversity this year. It wasn’t easy getting back there but we persevered all year.”
As the defending champions, she and her teammates knew they had targets on their back, so they had to step up their game. She took it upon herself to use the experience from the previous season to take on a leadership role for the younger players on the team.
The 5-foot-2 dynamo orchestrated the lone goal in the 2017 Esso Cup as well, blocking a shot in her own end, racing to the loose puck then turning it into the rush that won it all in overtime.
“We know that the emotional and mental toughness is often more important than your physical ability when it comes to competing to win a national championship,” Willan said. “So we just tried to help guide the girls who hadn’t been there before and show what it would take because it is a lot different from playing a regular season game.”
Willan didn’t get to spend a long time to relishing in that victory though. Within a couple of weeks, she was back on the ball diamond getting ready for what could turn into a big summer for the slugger and the sport.
THERE SHE GOES
Growing up as an only child, Willan gives all the credit to her parents for letting her dabble in different sports. Soccer, badminton and tennis to go along with hockey and baseball. Oh, and she’s also an accomplished golfer.
“Time management is a big factor in my life,” she laughed. “If I don’t manage my time well, it’s hard to fit everything in.”
She always has a schedule in her room, adding things in as needed. Not only is she balancing the different sports, but she also needs to fit in some family time and a social life. Willan is also keen on keeping on top of her grades.
“If I don’t follow it, then it limits my ability to do other things that I may want to do,” Willan continued. “It can be quite hectic but if I manage my time well, I should be able to fit everything in.”
Don’t expect her to give up that crazy schedule anytime soon, either. She wants to take both sports as far as she can and when you look at what she’s done, you can’t really blame her.
Take last summer as an example.
grateful for this opportunity🇨🇦 https://t.co/aLf2QRVyBF
— Madison Willan (@MadisonWillan) August 10, 2017
Willan was invited to play for Canada in an exhibition series in Washington, D.C. against USA Baseball’s Women’s National Team Development Program. In the first game of the series, she hit an out-of-field home-run.
It marked the first time a Canadian women’s player blasted one over the fence. Willan knew she had hit the ball hard, but it wasn’t until she looked up after rounding first base that she realized the left-fielder had hit the warning track and the ball wasn’t coming back.
“It was just an amazing experience,” she said of the trip, admitted she was “kind of unexpected” as she thought she had a good tournament before but didn’t know if she’d make the team.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
Willan’s star is still rising. She’s obviously done an interview or two in her short career, but she responds to questions with a thoughtfulness and understanding far beyond her 17 years. And when you think about her age, it makes it that much more impressive at how she’s taking it all in stride.
“It is a little weird to be thought of as an idol, especially given that I’m still young and still have a lot to learn,” Willan revealed. “I just hope that for those girls who play more than one sport, they can have someone to look up to and realize there is a way to balance both.”
The Confederation Park Little League alum also knows there’s an opportunity to grow the game.
“Give it a try,” she responded when asked what advice she had for young girls. “It doesn’t hurt to try, especially at a young age.”
— Baseball Canada (@baseballcanada) August 3, 2017
She hopes parents just like hers will expose their kids to a variety of sports, as that will give them an idea on what they love the most. It just so happens that Willan loves more than one. And when citing her own idols, it’s hard to pick one.
On the hockey side, it’s Marie-Philip Poulin. The National Women’s Team star came to chat with the Slash at the Esso Cup, telling them to “enjoy every moment, always work hard and never give up,” according to Willan.
“She’s the captain for Canada, she’s the face of girls’ hockey and she’s giving back in every way,” Willan beamed. “I really appreciate that and really aspire to be like her.
On the baseball side, it’s Nicole Luchanski.
READ MORE: Luchanski’s Redemption
“She’s roughly my size and stature, we’re both from Edmonton and played on the same little league team (Confederation Park),” she said. “We’ve grown up in the same environment and I just look up to her and see her making the epitome of baseball in Canada.”
But it all comes back to her parents and how they have made it all possible for Willan.
“They have always pushed me to be the best version of myself and to never get complacent,” she smiled. “I think that’s why I’m a very driven individual. I’ve never been satisfied with just being average.”
Willan will have a chance to raise the bar again for Team Alberta in a few days.