Spirit players on a mission in Japan
16 February 2017
SOFTBALL: The Aussie Spirit squad will take the next step in their long journey towards Tokyo 2020 when they travel to Japan for a high-level tournament in April.
The Toyota Cup is a pre-season tournament for teams in the Japanese professional softball league, but it is a serious competition that brings together the best players in the country plus a few internationals who play professionally in Japan.
The Aussie Spirit will play about 10 games in the tournament, which is held annually at the Toyota company headquarters, about 300 km southwest of Tokyo.
While they will be trying to win as many games as possible, the tournament is more about the competition than the results.
With the Softball World Championship – which is also an Olympic qualifying event – in Tokyo next year, the Aussie Spirit players need as much exposure as possible to the conditions and type of competition they will be up against.
Participation in the Toyota Cup is part of Softball Australia’s high-performance program, which is focusing on getting to the next Olympics and performing well in Tokyo and beyond.
High Performance Manager Andrew Utting says the experience gained by the Australian players will be invaluable for their skill development and for the experience of playing in Japanese conditions, where the heat can be intense and the crowds much noisier than at home.
“We need to get more high-quality international competition,” Utting says.
“With the next World Championship coming up in 2018, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics not too far away, we need to get acclimatised to Japanese conditions. Between now and then we need to get to Japan as much as we can.”
The Spirit squad will leave on April 3 and play some practice games before the Toyota Cup tournament, which runs from April 6-9.
Japan is the top-ranked softball team in the world, and the players who make up the national team will be competing in this tournament.
“All the best players in the country will be there,” Utting says.
“Japan has a lot of depth. Even the players who aren’t on the national team will still be high quality and will provide a higher level of competition than what we can find in Australia.
“The experience our players gain will be just what they need with an eye on the World Championship, qualifying for the Olympics and achieving what we hope to achieve in Tokyo 2020.”