SURREY, British Columbia — Aubrey Peterson stood beside teammate Morgan Salmon in the third-base on-deck circle of field No. 2 at Softball City, waiting for the bottom of the third inning of the Canada Cup game between the Great Britain under-22 women’s national team and the New Zealand Major Sox.
Both Peterson, an Everett native, and Salmon are Americans. But the pair were appropriately swapping their best British accents.
It was a light-hearted — and descriptive — moment during Peterson’s crazy and exhilarating summer with the British national softball program.
The Cascade High School graduate is criss-crossing the globe this summer, playing for multiple levels of the British national team, and when it’s all said and done, it could conclude with a spot in the Olympics.
A day in the life of a British national team player
It’s 10 a.m. on Thursday and the British U-22 team has just arrived at Softball City, an impressive four-field complex located just across the Canadian border in south Surrey. Team GB has two games, one in the morning against New Zealand and one in the afternoon against the Calahoo (Alberta) Erins. Peterson, wearing a light-gray sweatshirt over her red-and-navy-blue uniform and toting a University of Utah backpack, looks like she could use a cup of coffee.
If ever there was a player who had an excuse for needing a warmup to get up to full alertness, it’s someone who just a few days earlier was nine time zones away.
Peterson, who qualifies to compete for Great Britain because her mother is originally from there, is in her third year competing for the Brits, and she’s become a core player for the program. From June 30 to July 6 Peterson was with the senior national team at the Women’s European Championship in the Czech Republic and Poland, where Great Britain won the bronze medal. Peterson did her part as the team’s center fielder and No. 2 hitter, batting .308 and scoring eight runs in nine games. She also made a string of spectacular diving catches, including one that turned the tide in a critical game against the Czech Republic.
But Peterson didn’t get a chance to collect her medal at the closing ceremonies. Two hours after the end of the bronze-medal game, she was on a bus to the airport to fly to Vancouver, B.C., and join up with the U-22 team. After spending 30 hours awake, Peterson collapsed when she reached the team hotel, then was on the field for the U-22 team’s Canada Cup opener the next day.
“I’ve been all-in,” Peterson said. “That’s what the women’s team’s mentality has been this entire summer. We’re putting everything we can into making it to the Olympics, so it’s been all or nothing this whole summer.”
Even if it involves a travel schedule more hectic than an airline pilot’s. Peterson, who’s 22, barely qualifies for the U-22s. She and three teammates from the senior national team joined the U-22 squad at the Canada Cup in order to get playing time and stay sharp in between the senior team’s tournaments this summer.
Peterson, a classic left-handed slap hitter, had a good day at the plate Thursday, going 2-for-4 and scoring a run against New Zealand and 3-for-4 with two runs against Calahoo. The hits were a combination of using her speed to beat out bunts and infield hits, along with soft liners slapped over the third baseman’s head. However, the youthful Great Britain team — the team included high schoolers such as Salmon — dropped both its games, losing 7-4 to New Zealand and 6-4 to Calahoo.
But Peterson’s value to the program is recognized.
“I think she’s a great asset to the program,” British U-22 coach Jo Malisani said. “She has filled the void of a lefty, short-game, speed athlete, and she fills a huge hole in the outfield as she patrols it really well.
“In my opinion she’s going to be the backbone of our outfield for the next few years.”
Not your everyday national team process
Being part of the British national softball team is unique. Not only does Great Britain lack a professional league, the vast majority of the player pool is comprised of those, like Peterson, who qualify for the team because of their parents. The players are scattered around the world, either playing for their schools or for pro teams in other countries. The players don’t encounter one another until meeting up for tournaments during the summer. Peterson had never met any of her U-22 teammates — other than those who traveled with her from the European Championship — before arriving in Surrey.
In Peterson’s case, that means a lot of training on her own. She chose not to play at Utah her senior year, so for her preparations she was left to her own devices.
Well, not entirely her own devices. When Peterson was selected to the provisional senior team roster in March, she was sent a pair of devices to assist with her training: a Blast Motion, which is fixed to the end of the bat and measures things such as bat speed and swing angles; and a PUSH Band, which is worn on the arm and measures things such as arm velocity and angle while throwing. Peterson had to report her numbers to her coaches on an almost daily basis.
When the time came for the European Championship, the players gathered in the Netherlands for five days of seven-hour practices before heading to the Czech Republic and Poland for the tournament.
“I think I did pretty good, I don’t know,” Peterson said about her performance at Euros. “I put it all on the line. It was definitely statistically one of my better tournaments I’ve played, and I definitely made a lot of diving catches that I’m happy about.”
Those who were eligible for the U-22 team were sent to the Canada Cup to keep them ready for the big one: the Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier on July 23-27 in Utrecht, Netherlands.
When Peterson first joined the British national program, the Olympics were not in her consciousness. The sport was removed following the 2008 games in Beijing. However, softball has been re-added for the 2020 games in Tokyo, so Peterson is getting her shot.
The Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier features eight teams, the top six teams from the European Championship (Italy, the Netherlands, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Spain and France) and the top two teams from the African Softball Championships (South Africa and Botswana). But just six teams from around the world will compete in Tokyo, which has turned the Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier into a winner-takes-all affair.
Great Britain lost definitively to both Italy and the Netherlands, Europe’s traditional softball powers, at the European Championship, so the Brits are underdogs. But the British said they believe they have a chance to leapfrog Italy and the Netherlands and grab the lone Olympic berth.
“I want to go to the Olympics so bad,” Peterson said. “I can’t even put it into words. It’s that one thing you’ve been dreaming of since you were a little kid, to say you were an Olympic athlete. For me to do it, not only for myself but for my British family, would be a big honor. It’s an honor to even get the chance to try and make it that far, but to make it all the way, that’s what everyone wants.”
The British team’s fate at the Olympic qualifier could affect Peterson’s life path.
“Something that’s been on my mind this entire tour is, ‘Where do you want to go from here?’” Peterson said. “I’m only 22, I do have plans on going back to grad school and getting my degree in mental health counseling. But we don’t know what’s going to happen the next couple of weeks, that could be a complete life changer if I’m going to be an Olympic softball player.
“I still really have no idea what I’m going to do, but I’m leaning more towards riding this out and seeing how far I can go in softball.”
And she’ll be doing it while continuing to wear the Union Jack.
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