Unfinished Business

By JOE McFARLAND

There’s one colour of medal missing from Nicole Luchanski’s mantle. But it will take some unfinished business to get that gold medal.

The Edmonton native is one of five Albertans named to Baseball Canada’s Women’s National Team hoping to make it to the top of the podium when the Women’s Baseball World Cup starts this week in Viera, Florida.

Ranked second in the world, the Canadian contingent is hoping a mix of new and old blood will be the recipe for success.

“We’re here to win and we’re here to win every game,” Luchanski told Alberta Dugout Stories after the team’s first practice in Florida. “It’s still sitting there, unaccomplished, so we want to go get it.”

She had made her goal for the season simple pretty early on: make the team. Now that she has, it’s all business for the 13-year national team veteran.

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“She’s been our sparkplug since 2006,” Baseball Canada head coach Andre Lachance said. “Nicole has been here before. She’s one of the hearts of our team and we know what we’re going to get out of her.”

Canada is coming off a silver medal performance at the 2016 tournament in Busan, South Korea. In the final, they were thumped 10-0 by Japan, who has now won five-straight World Cup championships. Canada has two silver medals and three bronze medals to show for their efforts in seven tournaments.

Needless to say, Baseball Canada felt the need to up the ante over the past couple of years in preparation for this year’s event.

MIXING IT UP

The work towards the World Cup began well before many of the women took the field. Lachance said Baseball Canada added educational videos to their ball bags, in hopes those who were identified as potential players would be able to be brought up to speed quickly.

“It was a time-saving strategy we came up with during the winter and it’s paying off already,” he said. “Now we can work on many more things that we couldn’t get to in the past. That’s the reality of sitting in a large country like Canada as you’re always looking for an edge.”

After getting to know each other, the team quickly turned its attention to the field the day after arriving in Viera. The objective: get used to the environment.

“It’s pretty hot here, but also getting used to playing on the turf surface, which could be new for some of the athletes,” Lachance said.

The scope of the tournament will also be new for some of the rookies. Six were named to the Canadian roster in mid-July, including three Albertans. Edmonton’s Madison Willan and McKinlee Kaulbach joined Redcliff’s Kaitlyn Ross as first-year players heading stateside.

That’s where veterans like Luchanski and Red Deer’s Kelsey Lalor come in, helping them all acclimatize.

“We’re just trying to keep it light,” Luchanski said. “There have been years in the past where everything was just so serious and I don’t know if, in the end, that was really the best because there’s already so much pressure.”

And while Luchanski believes that pressure never changes, she’s hopeful this is the team that finally puts Canada over the top.

NEW BLOOD

While one eye is firmly on the prize of top spot in the World Cup, the other eye is seemingly on the future for Baseball Canada.

Lachance speaks highly of all the young talent on display during the national tournament in Montreal, particularly the reigning Baseball Alberta bantam girls player of the year.

“Looking at Kaitlyn Ross the last couple of years, she’s a very good athlete,” he said. “She’s young and could be with us for a long time because she has a presence behind the plate, she has a good arm and she can hit as well.”

Willan had gained some exposure after hitting an out-of-field home run last summer during the Canada/USA Women’s Series. The one Albertan who may have come out of left field was Kaulbach.

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“She was a really, really nice surprise as she played very well (at nationals),” Lachance said. “We’re going to bring her in slowly to the program. We want to put her in situations where she can have success.”

The 18-year-old admits to being a little shocked with how quickly everything has happened.

“Honestly I had no clue it was all going to happen and as soon as I found out, there was so much joy and so much shock, all at once,” Kaulbach told Alberta Dugout Stories. “Especially because we’ve all been trying to get to this point throughout our baseball careers.”

It’s clear in talking with the younger players that they are excited and eager to learn from the veterans, some who have looked up to Luchanski, Kate Psota, Amanda Asay and Ashley Stephenson for as long as they can remember. Edmonton hosted the Women’s Baseball World Cup in 2004 and 2012, after all.

For Kaulbach, who is being brought in specifically to pitch, it means the world to have that support.

“At times, there are definitely the nerves, like ‘oh shoot, I have to do well at this position and only this position because it’s my only position,'” she said. “But at the end of the day, the atmosphere on the team is amazing because you don’t feel as much pressure.”

Kaulbach will also have support off the field, as her parents will be in attendance for the tournament, soaking it all in along with the players.

“I’m just happy to get started,” Luchanski added.

Canada will hit the field for the first time on Wednesday against Hong Kong.

FEATURED IMAGE PHOTO CREDIT: Baseball Canada / Adam Morrisette

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