TAKE a bow Hawke's Bay-based New Zealand women's softball team coach Kevin Gettins!
The White Sox mentor, who was this week reappointed for a further two years, has come up with another innovative idea to boost his team's chances of playing at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The White Sox will play at the national under-19 boys tournament in Hastings from January 5-8 so they are in Gettins words "exposed to better quality pitching without having to go offshore".
After the White Sox finished eighth at their July World Series in Canada Gettins said it was crucial his players faced tougher pitchers more regularly if they were going to break into the top six and qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. He has encouraged White Sox players to compete in men's competitions around the country - like his daughter and White Sox catcher Melanie Gettins, White Sox pitcher Rita Hokianga and United States import Alyssa James, who may soon be eligible for New Zealand citizenship, are doing for Flaxmere in the Hawke's Bay comp.
"I don't think the White Sox will be eligible for the tournament title. The move is aimed at giving them tougher competition as part of Softball New Zealand and their associations' drive to get them to the Olympics. They will get stiffer competition than they would normally ... it will definitely add flavour to the nationals and be nothing but a positive for the tournament," Softball Hawke's Bay's managing director Mark Carter said.
Coach Gettins is also planning to take the White Sox to Japan in July for a fortnight of training and games as part of their buildup for the 2018 World Series in Chiba.
"It's important we familiarise ourselves with a different culture so there are no surprises when we go there for the world champs. I don't think many of the group have been there before so it will be a new challenge. There's a fair bit of softball in the Asia region over the next few years and it makes sense that everyone gets a feel for it all," Gettins said.
The White Sox will again play in the Down Under Classic in Australia in February. This year the Kiwis were joined by Australia and Japan at the tournament and next year China and Chinese Taipei are likely to play.
"Our USA-based players won't be available for the Down Under Classic so it will be a good opportunity for some of our domestic players to step up," Gettins said.
He is also hoping to get some of his New Zealand-based players into Australian club tournaments in the hunt for tougher match play.
New Zealand are fifth on the world female rankings which are based on senior and junior international performances in recent years.
Meanwhile all four teams in the Hawke's Bay's premier men's comp, Flaxmere, Fast Pitch, Saints and Maraenui Pumas, have a win and a loss after two rounds. It is shaping up to be the closest pre-Christmas comp for many years.
There will be no play this weekend because of the Labour Weekend break but Saints will be in action at a Manawatu-based tournament.