For eight elite Australian softball players, life as they know it is about to change dramatically.
The eight Aussie Spirit players are headed for the adventure of a lifetime when they join the Chicago Bandits in the National Pro Fastpitch league.
The players who have recently signed professional contracts with the Bandits are:
Janice Blackman (Qld)
Chelsea Forkin (Qld)
Rachel Lack (NSW)
Stacey McManus (NSW)
Kaia Parnaby (NSW)
Samantha Poole (NSW)
Ellen Roberts (NSW)
Taylah Tsitsikronis (NSW)
The Bandits, who won the NPF championship in the past two years, play at a purpose-built stadium in Rosemont, Illinois, one of the premier softball facilities in the USA.
According to Softball Australia High Performance Manager Andrew Utting, the deal with the Bandits will improve Australia’s chances of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Qualifying for that huge event begins next year, and the Bandits players will have had a season of top-level competition under their belts by then.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for these eight players to be full-time professional athletes who can concentrate 100 per cent on softball,” Utting says.
“They’ll be exposed to a level of competition that will be a tremendous benefit to them as individuals and to the team as we look towards the 2018 World Championship and qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
“The experience of training and competing at that level against top-quality opposition is an environment we can’t create in Australia, and it will help us bridge the gap on the US and other countries whose players benefit from playing professionally.”
The players’ excitement level is matched by that of Chicago Bandits General Manager Toni Calmeyn.
“I think this is a great opportunity for them as well as for the Bandits,” Calmeyn says.
“No team in the NPF has done anything to this magnitude before with international players and we are excited to have Australian players in Rosemont and as part of the Bandits team.”
The players will receive a scholarship payment from Softball Australia, plus a per diem living and meals allowance.
If the concept is successful, it is hoped that Australia’s relationship with the Bandits will continue. “It’s something we can build and grow from,” Utting says. “We have a strong relationship with the Bandits. They have been super-supportive and keen to help.”
The NFP is a five-team league that takes place from June to August. The league features the very best talent including all active US former Olympians, NCAA National Champions and Women’s College World Series’ MVPs, and NCAA Softball’s most decorated athletes both nationally and through individual conference affiliations.
In 2017 NPF regular season action, 120 games are scheduled leading up the Championship Series, held in mid-August.
The NPF’s five affiliate teams are the Akron Racers, Chicago Bandits, Scrap Yard Dawgs, Texas Charge and USSSA Florida Pride.
The season will kick off June 1 when the Akron Racers and Chicago Bandits match-up for a three-game series at The Ballpark at Rosemont. Regular season action will conclude on August 13, with the top four finishers moving onto the Championship Series.
Player profile pictures courtesy of Sam Donkin Photography