North invades Triple Crown |

North invades Triple Crown

Members of the Quill Plains Blazers of Quill Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada march into the Opening Ceremonies at the Utah Olympic Park on Monday.

The Premier Resorts Triple Crown Girls Fastpitch World Series softball tournament has gone international.

This year, among some of the country’s best teen softball athletes on the field, there will be two teams from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan the Quill Plains Blazers of Quill Lake and the Wheat County Wild of Regina.

And for anyone that thought softball was America’s sport think again. Both teams fared well in pool play with Wheat County advancing to the Championship bracket and the Blazers to the International bracket.

For World Series organizer Bill Pilcher, the addition of the Canadian teams has been very beneficial.

"I think more than anything in this tournament, teams like to play something different," Pilcher said. "It throws a flavor in there that they like."

It seems the quest for something different is mutual. According to Wheat County manager, Colleen Dundas, the team made the trek to Park City to give the girls experience and exposure. For the Quill Lake team, it was the opportunity to play some high-level competition that they would otherwise never see. According to team representative, Alec Dyok, the differences have been great.

"Our team is all about the better the competition, the better for our girls," Dyok said.

He says that he has found the American pitching to be more consistent and the quality of the games quite strong. After a 22-hour bus drive from the Midwest of Canada, the fact that Triple Crown is one of the few tournaments that runs for a week rather than just a weekend, was also attractive.

Traveling from Canada to the U.S. for softball tournaments is not very common, so there were some adjustments to be made. In Canada, the age divisions are different, so the Quill Lake squad is playing with a bantam level, or 15-and-under team. The Blazers went through even more red tape. Their equivalent junior team is 18-and under, so the 16 year-olds on the team are less experienced. The logical solution was to form an all-star squad of 16 year-olds from all over the city, except Canadian club softball is heavily regulated. Girls must play on certain teams mandated by the zone that they live in. After gaining special permission from Softball Saskatchewan, the team was finally able to come together and prepare for their trip across the border.

Then there was the challenge of qualification. Pilcher said that when the teams first contacted him about attending the tournament he was worried that the level of skill might not match. But after careful study of their provincial system, and further researching qualification tournaments in Canada, he was confident that the teams from up North could hold their own.

"I don’t want them to come down here and not have a very positive experience. They are spending $10,000," Pilcher said.

The challenges don’t stop there.

There is the problem of long winters that Park city ball clubs can understand. Snow doesn’t melt on their fields until late spring, forcing the season into being only summer-long. The Canadian school year is also different. The teams just barely finished final exams just three weeks ago. Still, against teams from Arizona and Southern California that play year-round in the sun, the Canadian teams have hardly missed a step.

And finally, in a post-9/11 world, the act of getting a busload of Canadians over the American border is a tall order.

In the end, though, it’s all worth it. Wheat County came to Park City after attending another Triple Crown tournament in Denver, Colo. where they took silver in the Gold division. And back at home, their 18-and-under division is preparing to compete in Canadian Nationals in August. The Wild are lead by Rod Marquardt, a former man’s softball national champion, so winning and searching out better competition is always important.

But the best part of the tournament for the teams has actually been the similarities. Dyok said that his team is committed to teaching the girls teamwork and respect — qualities that know no boundaries. And more often then not, both teams have found the feeling is mutual, and that love of the game and girls excelling in sports and life are a common goal.

"It’s common rules of life," Dyok said.

Dundas agrees.

"Ball is ball. The game is the game."

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