No one can blame those connected to the Red Deer U19A Rage for having a smile on their face.
Rage head coach Scott Murray has put together an impressive lineup as elite-level softball returns to the city as part of the Greater Edmonton Super League.
“It’s a high-level league and a lot of good competition,” said Murray, who sees only one negative this season — no nationals.
“We really felt we had a team to challenge for the provincials and go to the nationals,” he said. “But because of Covid that’s changed. But we’re just glad we’re back playing.”
The Greater Edmonton League is a six-team conference, playing each Wednesday. The Rage will still play in a number of weekend tournaments as well as the provincials in early August in Lloydminster.
The team was to start play last season, but the pandemic prevented that.
“Some of our girls haven’t played for a couple of years, so there’s a lot of excitement,” added Murray, who has coached in the Red Deer Minor Softball Association for several years.
“This team is a combination of my core when I coached the U16 girls and Heather Chatwood’s team. We’re all together for the first time, which is good to see.”
Of the 13 girls on the roster “nine or 10” will be either returning to college in the States in the fall or heading down south for the first time.
“It shows how much talent we have,” said Murray, who is the director of the St. Joseph’s Baseball/Softball Academy.
He has four players from the academy in Paige Simpson, Hannah Murray, Darby DeRuyter and Kate Hansen.
“So I have first-hand knowledge of those girls plus several others I’ve coached in the past,” he said.
He also picked up three girls out of Edmonton, including impressive pitcher Aydenne Brown, who was a first-team junior college All-American at Odessa College in Texas. She was pitcher of the week 11 times during the season while posting an 20-2 record with a 1.72 ERA. She helped lead her team to the junior college World Series, where they finished 1-2.
Brown is one of four pitchers on the roster, joining Rayna Cruickshanks of Olds, DeRuyter of Innisfail and Brook Gaudry.
“We have a lot of confidence in all four of our pitchers. We feel we can win anytime any one of them is on the mound,” added Murray, who likes his overall depth.
“We do have depth in all areas, the infield, outfield and catching. They’re versatile and very athletic,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of our younger players (Paige Simpson and Avery Terpsma} in Colorado with a team from Alberta and others stepped in and we haven’t missed a beat.”
The fact the majority of the team either attended an academy or played college ball, has been a huge benefit, says Murray.
“Obviously if they played it’s a benefit for sure and the girls at the academy got a chance to practice so it didn’t take them long to get back into the swing of things.”
The fact Red Deer has added the elite U19A program will benefit the players at the academy plus draw interest in the St. Joe’s program.
“It goes hand in hand,” Murray said. “This year we have three girls committed to colleges in the States and we’ve seen a big increase in the program. We started with seven girls and have 27 registered already for next season and there’s likely a few others who will trickle in.
“It’s a healthy number and a bit surprising how quickly it’s grown in a short period of time.”
The Rage have posted a 6-2-2 record this season. They play at Great Chief again July 14 against the Sherwood Park Storm. They play in a Leduc tournament July 9-11 and in Saskatoon July 16-18.
“Normally we’d play 50 to 60 games, but everything is compacted this year so we’ll be around 40 games, but that’s still a good number. We don’t have a lot of time to practice, but then the girls had enough practice time during the winter. They need game situations.”
Murray has Scott Bostock and Marci Terpsma as assistant coaches with Heather Chatwood helping when she’s available.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com