Triple Play

By JOE McFARLAND

In the blink of an eye, Madison Willan has somehow turned into one of the veterans of Baseball Canada’s Women’s National Team.

Making her debut with the program in 2017, the Edmonton product was only able to enjoy three summers with the team before the COVID-19 pandemic ground things to a halt.

Returning to the field for games this past summer for the Friendship Series against the United States, Willan was looked upon as an experienced voice on a young roster of players.

“It’s definitely a little weird to think about, considering I’m only 21 years old,” Willan told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.

“But through playing other sports like hockey at the University of Alberta, I was still able to work on my leadership skills and still be in that competitive mindset.”

Her strong performance during the five-game series helped propel Willan into being named Baseball Alberta’s Open Women’s Player of the Year.

BACK TO NORMAL

In recent years, the award has resembled a pitching rotation of sorts.

Familiar names like Nicole Luchanski, Kelsey Lalor, and the last name Jespersen (Carrie and Ellie) had dominated the winner’s circle, with a sprinkling of Heidi Northcott and Tara Sliwkanich mixed in.

Willan is honoured to know her name will be added to the list.

“We definitely have a lot of girls who could have won this award,” said the 5-foot-2 infielder.

“We have a lot of talent here with Baseball Alberta.”

That talent was on full display at the 2022 Women’s Invitational Championships in Stonewall, Manitoba.

While her team went 2-2 to finish in fifth place, Willan was thankful for the opportunity to get back into a familiar routine while seeing some friendly faces.

“Just to be able to connect with friends from other provinces that we haven’t had the chance to see in a while and be able to get everyone together again and compete in the summer was a really nice chance to have,” she said.

The Baseball Canada coaching staff was on-hand for the tournament, allowing them to select their final roster, which included Willan and Ellie Jespersen.

FRIENDSHIP SERIES

The team headed to Thunder Bay, Ontario to face their American counterparts for the first time since 2019 and Willan says it was a learning experience for many on the team.

While the US was viewed as a veteran-heavy squad, Canada had eight rookies on the squad.

Willan provided a steady influence at the plate and in the field as Canada won two of the five contests.

Like her coach, Ashley Stephenson, she admits the team didn’t get off to the start it wanted, losing 16-2 in the opener, but showed some resilience that will be needed in future tournaments.

“I think our biggest goal was to just get some experience because some of these ladies haven’t had the chance to play at the international level yet,” Willan said.

“To be able to play a five-game series against the US was pretty huge for us to gain that experience and build towards the 2024 World Cup, which we hope to participate in.”

Not only did it provide the athletes with some experience, the series gave them the opportunity to get to know one another and build relationships that they believe will translate well on the field.

Willan is hoping they all stay in touch during the off-season, to keep connected so that when they hit the field again, they can pick up where they left off.

GRATEFUL FOR THE OPPORTUNITIES

Sporting a cast on her right hand after being injured playing for the University of Alberta hockey team, Willan is still smiling as she reflects on what was a great year of being back to normal.

READ MORE: Madison and the Multi-Sport Dream

The top-level, multi-sport star is thankful for being able to chase her dreams in baseball, hockey and golf.

She will be back at the diamond as soon as she can, ready to build off her successes in 2022 to make another run provincially and nationally next summer.

“I’m very grateful to be where I am in my sports career,” says the third-year Science major. “I think just trying to take in the present moment as much as I can, and just being happy with what I’m doing – I love what I do.”

“When you love what you do, it’s hard not having a smile on your face.”

Willan is also starting to comprehend the impact she is having on the game at home and across the country.

After looking up to the likes of Luchanski and Lalor, she’s now building her own legacy in the game.

“That concept is definitely a little new to me, especially given that I am still so young and I still have a lot to learn,” she said.

“I know that it’s super-important to give back to your community and so to have a younger girl looking up to me is obviously a huge honour and I respect that a lot.”

As Willan works her way towards building a longevity in the game that rivals her heroes, she hopes she’s able to impart some wisdom she’s acquired along the way.

“I just want young girls out there to know that it is possible to play baseball and to play it at a high level and travel around the world and make new friendships,” she says.

“If that’s something you want to do, it’s out there and the game is growing – it’s definitely an option.”

Willan is definitely taking advantage of the options that have been afforded to her.

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