Hayward & Salling Earn Silver Medal
Nov. 1, 2011
SEATTLE - UW sophomore Victoria Hayward recently had the opportunity of a lifetime, competing in the Pan-American games in Guadalajara, Mexico for Team Canada with former Husky teammate Jenn Salling. The team made it to the final game before falling to the United States, but still returned home with silver medals in hand. Since softball is no longer an Olympic sport, this was an exciting opportunity for Hayward to showcase her skills on a national stage and come away with memories that will last a lifetime.
Before competing in the Pan-Am games, the team met in Phoenix then flew on to Mexico together. "We arrived three or four days prior to the competition [and] had two to three practices a day together as a team, just preparing," Hayward, a Toronto native, recounts. "We hadn't played together since the end of July, so it had been a while. [We were] just getting back together and getting used to one another [again]. We had a couple new teammates come in that weren't with us over the summer, [so] we were getting to know everybody and making sure we were on the same page for our first game." Before the games began, Team Canada played an exhibition game against Puerto Rico, tying 1-1.
Hayward says that it was fun but challenging to get used to playing not only in a different country where she had never previously visited, but with new teammates and on a team she doesn't play with on as regular a basis as her Husky teammates. "It was difficult, but a good challenge. Just because we had to get used to playing with one another, some of us were playing positions that we didn't normally play, and some people hadn't seen or been in a game environment since we had played [together this summer]...We never really knew what to expect in terms of facilities; we were just reacting and taking in everything and doing what we could wherever we were."
All of the games during the softball tournament took place at the Pan-American Softball Stadium, which opened in May 2010 to host the Mexican National Olympic Games. Hayward says "It was a turf field in the outfield, so it was super fast, and the infield was really sandy, so it was super slow." There were some other differences from what she's used to including outfield fences at 240 feet away instead of 220, as well as a 35 foot wall. She continued, "It was a challenge to get used to, but then you could really use it to your advantage once you figured it out."
Team Canada had faced several of these teams in last year's World Cup, but she knew it would be a different experience this time around. Obviously, as is the case for any of the teams competing, she says, "our goal was to make it to the gold medal game. We'd played Venezuela and the US before this summer, [but] we didn't really know what to expect from Cuba, who we ended up losing a game to. We knew we had the potential to beat everybody, [but] because we had played and beat the US in the summer, we knew that we would be in every game." This was indeed the case for Team Canada, as they went 7-3 in the tournament and made it to the gold medal game against the United States.
"The first couple of games were really fun. We didn't know too much about the other teams and we went into [the game against Cuba] and underestimated them...For most of the games, our team was just about getting everyone in, using our strengths." The team put in the players who they thought could give them the best opportunity to win in different situations throughout the games. Hayward says, "I split time with another girl; we would hit in different situations and we would play defense in different situations. If their bigger hitters were coming up, I would play outfield, because I was a stronger outfielder. With the bases loaded, she would go in and hit. We worked as a team in a lot of the games to utilize a lot of our strengths. Any situation [when] we got to go in was exciting, because all the games were so important to our end result."
After losing to Cuba the first time, Canada was ready to make up for it in the bronze medal game earlier in the day before the gold medal game. The first game, Canada's loss against Cuba, "was just one of the craziest games of softball I have ever played. Both teams were yelling at each other, the umpires were yelling at each other, coaches got thrown out, it was insane. Our first base coach got booted when it all started, [and] our third base coach as well. It was such a game of passion, and we were so mad that we lost. We knew we had opportunities and knew that we could have won." This fire and passion gave them the drive to play harder and faster in their second game against Cuba. "It just gave us that much more energy and we knew that we were going to beat them. It was a revenge win, just to prove that we could win when it mattered." And mattered, it did. Canada headed on to the final game, again against the United States, for the chance at the gold medal.
Playing the US earlier in the tournament, as well as in months and years past gave them some inclination as to what they'd face in the final game. "We'd played the US a number of times this summer and they always threw their lefty pitchers against us, because our team had seven to eight out of nine lefty hitters, [so] that was really effective for them. We came out in the first game and scored five runs in the top of the first." They already knew that they'd be going to the medal game, so they decided not to use their best pitcher in the game. They realized that with their own strong start, they might have overlooked a US comeback. "We ended up getting five runs [and] we were planning on one-ruling them and all of a sudden, the game totally flipped and they just started hitting and hitting and we ended up losing." But, Team Canada was able to take away a moral victory from the game, because as Hayward said, "It was a good game because nobody had scored more than two runs on them and we came out and scored five right off the bat. We knew we could score runs off of them, it was just that we needed timely hitting. We had runners on base in all sorts of situations and we just didn't end up scoring runs in the final game. 11-1 [the margin of the final game] sounds worse than it actually [looked] like."
Hayward says one of her favorite parts of the games were the Olympic-like opening ceremonies, and getting the chance to walk out with all of the Canadian athletes. "There was a Pan-American torch that was lit [and] we went through this tunnel into a stadium with our whole country. We were singing the National Anthem together, about 500 athletes. We walked out, they announced us, we walked in a circle waving, and everyone was screaming `Canada!' We sat down and got to watch the rest of them come through. There were some performers, a really cool light show, and fireworks. It was amazing."
Even though she has several medals from past events like the World Cup and Canada Cup, Hayward says "this was my first real, really cool medal. It's heavy and it's big, like an Olympic medal."
Hayward also really enjoyed playing with Husky alum Jenn Salling again. "It was so nice playing with Jenn. I definitely miss her, but it was cool getting back on the field with her. Having her leadership there was definitely a big help in terms of defense and offense. It was really good to have her back."
Now that the Pan-American games are behind them, Team Canada doesn't "meet again until after the world series, after June [of 2012]." But Hayward is excited to go to Cape Town, South Africa at the beginning of December to play in the Junior U-19 World Championships, along with fellow Husky teammate Kylee Lahners who will play for the US team.