The international softball spotlight will focus on Sydney over the next four days as some of the world’s best female players line up in the 2017 Down Under Series.
And for Aussie Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow, the series poses a dual challenge. Is he coaching to win every game, or is he looking to the longer term, with Olympic qualification in mind?
“It’s a bit of both, really,” Barlow says. “We want to win every game we play, and I’m confident that every lineup I send out there can win on the day.
“But we also have to have an eye on the future. Players will be given opportunities to showcase their skills and show us what they can do against top-class international competition.
“It won’t be the same lineup out there every game. This year and next are vital for Australian women’s softball, with some big events, so we need to have the best possible preparation for our players.”
The Down Under Series, to be held in at Blacktown International Sportspark from February 9-12, will include an Australian Squad and an All-Stars team made up of Identified Pathway Athletes.
As well as two teams made up of Australia’s best players, the event also features the world’s top-ranked national team, Japan, and the fifth-ranked New Zealand.
Since the initial selections were made, the two Australian squads have undergone some changes. Amelia Cudicio and Belinda White have switched to the All Stars, to strengthen the battery and give both more playing time. And six players from the recent National Under 19 Championship have been added, a move that Barlow says has been made with the future in mind.
For the Aussie Spirit players, the tournament will be a chance to rebound after their disappointing 10th placing at the World Championship in Canada last year.
All four teams take the field at the same time after the opening ceremony on Thursday evening, with Japan playing the All Stars and the Aussie Spirit taking on New Zealand at 7pm.
At 7.30pm on Friday, the Aussie Spirit and Japan clash in a game that will be live streamed, as will the final game on Sunday afternoon.