By Dan Plouffe
The last time the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees softball team was at home two weekends ago, coach Scott Searle saw his young team as a bit of a work in progress as his squad dropped three of four against Laurier and Waterloo.
Turns out that progress came a bit quicker than expected, as the Gee-Gees now head back into town riding a four-game winning streak thanks to road victories they grinded out last weekend in double-headers against McMaster and Guelph.
“Absolutely we have the horses,” says Searle, who was overjoyed after tactical, communication, and focus improvements from his players. “It’s one of the most physically talented groups I’ve ever had and they’re all the nicest people in the world to coach and work with.”
The Gee-Gees added eight rookies to their lineup this year, including Ontario Midget MVP Jean Cordona – a star on the mound and at the plate in last weekend’s wins – 2010 Ottawa Sports Awards softball athlete of the year Grace Lonergan, and Midget Team Quebec member Chelsea Moran.
Add five more players who are just entering their second years with the squad and it’s understandable why there can be some moments where a lack of experience shows itself despite players’ abundance of ability.
“We have those dribs and drabs with a lot of rookies playing together and people are still a little tentative, but once we get that fixed, I think we’re going to do well,” explains Searle, whose club last won an Ontario University Athletics title in 2004. “I think we have the talent and the physical skills to make a really good run at the championship.”
One big piece to the puzzle for Ottawa U is Jillian Taylor, who rejoins the Gee-Gees after completing her bachelor of education in 2010. The 25-year-old pitching ace is now working on an education Master’s degree while supply teaching with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.
Softball wasn’t originally part of the plan for Taylor, although she couldn’t resist the lure after watching the Canadian championships from the stands this past summer.
“I was sitting there watching it, and I really missed it, so I decided to come out and play in the fall,” Taylor recounts. “It’s good to be back on the diamond and it’s fun. The girls are great.
“I feel a little old sometimes, but the (young players) are really committed and energetic, so it’s good to be a part of this team even if I am older.”
While Taylor can be counted on as a big-time leader for the Gee-Gees, they’ve also added a ton of experience to their coaching staff thanks to 2008 Olympian Robin Mackin, who is studying medicine at Ottawa U after finishing pre-med at Fresno State and Nebraska.
“It helps to get back into things having a coach like that,” Taylor notes, adding that Mackin is not only a great role model for the young players but also very approachable. “Because I haven’t pitched all summer, it’s little things like I’ll try to put a certain spin on the ball and I won’t understand why it’s not working, and she’ll immediately come over right away and tell me what’s wrong. She’s really knowledgeable.”
With just one more road trip after this weekend\’s matches prior to the provincial championships on Oct. 22-24 in London, Ont., Taylor likes the look of this Gee-Gees team and expects they’ll be in the running for the top spot.
“I think we have a good chance, I really do,” says the former Orleans Rebel. “People put in a lot of their own personal time and effort along with how much time it takes as a team to practice and prepare. Along with the skill, I think we have a good chance.”
The 8-6 Gee-Gees host Toronto Saturday at 2 p.m. for a doubleheader and then take on Guelph Sunday at noon for another pair of games. All games are at Alexander Grove in Kanata. The 0-14 Carleton Ravens are also in action against the same opponents on reverse days.
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