WINNIPEG — It’s unlikely Brittany McCarthy will emerge as a member of a championship team from the 2017 Canada Summer Games women’s softball tournament.
But the 20-year-old from Placentia has already been a champion this year.
McCarthy, the left fielder for Newfoundland and Labrador’s female fastpitch entry at the Games, plays with Lafontaine Club, the Placentia team which is the defending champion of the Molson St. John’s intermediate men’s league.
She’s far from a starter with Lafontaine, getting into just a handful of games with the team in regular league play, and only a couple of at-bats in the Swing Into Summer championship which the club won in late June.
However, McCarthy says the experience has been invaluable in the development of her game. It’s a matter of osmosis as she soaks up the softball knowledge of her Lafontaine teammates
“It’s especially good to get in there for games and get up to the plate, especially with how fast they pitch (in the intermediate league),” said McCarthy, who says she is made to feel a member of the team, not the female member of the team.
“I couldn’t ask for better. I couldn’t ask for more. They treat me so well,” said McCarthy, who was named Softball Newfoundland and Labrador’s 2016 junior female player of the year.
A nursing student at Memorial — she’s preparing for her second year of studies — McCarthy played “every sport that was available” growing up in Placentia, and was a member of the Laval High School varsity girls basketball teams.
But softball holds a particular allure.
“It just grabs me,” she said.
Newfoundland’s Canada Games coach Paul Smith Jr. says that is evident every time McCarthy takes to the field.
“I’ve been coaching Brittany for four years and if every player took this game as seriously and as passionately as she did, we’d be right there with pretty much every team that is up here,” he said.
Smith is of two minds when it comes to how he views McCarthy playing with Lafontaine. He knows it’s an acknowledgement of her talent, and that it provides an opportunity for her to add to her skill level.
However, the fact it is one of the few opportunities for her to find a competitive game outside the Canada Games/NL Selects U21 program is also an indicator of how far the province is behind when it comes to women’s fastpitch.
“It’s great that’s she’s playing with Placentia,” said Smith. “She gets to see another side of things because there are guys on that team who could be playing senior A, so she’s picking up a lot of stuff that she can bring back to us.
“But in the overall scheme of things, if we’re going to improve the women’s game at home, we need the top women playing with women.”
That doesn’t happen a whole lot in Newfoundland. The St. John’s women’s league operates on a very light schedule, and there is the provincial women’s tournament and the Games program, but almost nothing else.
For younger players, there’s the Moss minor tourney and age-groups programs, including under-14 and U16 which serve as Eastern Canadian qualifiers. The U16 Selects participate in the St. John's league, but consistent, frequent play, all the way through to the senior level is almost non-existent.
“(Summer Games softball) is an under-21 tournament, and that means there are players from other provinces who have been playing 15 or 16 years. Half our girls, even our best players, have been playing only three or four years,” said Smith.
“If we’re going to change that, we need them exposed to some better coaching. But that can’t just start with U14 and U16. That’s got to start with under-10 and up, playing with the girls, getting great coaching and learning fundamentals and applying the fundamentals on a consistent basis all the summer, not for one or two tournaments and a couple of games a year.”
That's even more important considering Canada Games female softball will become an U18 tourney for 2021 in the Niagara region of Ontario.