The Softball NSW Under 18's boys Vice-Captain Cameron Taylor (left) with Captain Evan Wulff (right). (Photo Credit: Steven Poletti)

Ahead of the Under 18's Softball National Championship, the NSW Captain and Vice-Captain sat down with The Inner Sanctum to talk about the tournament.

The U18’s Softball National Championship is a place for softball’s brightest young stars to show off their talents at the highest level. 

For the boys, they compete for the Nox Bailey Shield, and ahead of the tournament, New South Wales (NSW) captain Evan Wulff and vice-captain Cameron Taylor, as well as coach Adam Rindfleish sat down for an interview with The Inner Sanctum.

With the tournament originally set to take place in Western Australia, the NSW boys were given a relief when the tournament was relocated to Blacktown International Sportspark as a result of border closures with WA because of COVID-19.

The impact that Wulff and Taylor expect this to have can’t be understated. 

“A bonus is having a home crowd, which will be pretty amazing to have,” Wulff said

“We can understand, like, how the ball moves off the back fences if something bad happens and how far the fences are and stuff like that.”

“Training here everyday, so we get used to playing here when we have the big finals and [it] just gets us comfortable playing at our home ground. It feels great,” Taylor added.

“We definitely have the [home field] advantage. We train here three times a week. We know what everything is like when it’s wet, dry, hot.

“We’ll perform our best here.”

This is something that was also echoed by Rindfleish.

“Whenever I walk through the gates at Blacktown International Sportspark, into our stadium, welcomed by the familiar NSW faces and take our place in the dugouts for game time, it all feels like home,” Rindfleish said.

“We know the grounds, the fences, the way the ball plays off the surface, the hometown crowd, I love playing at home.”

Vice-Captain Cameron Taylor at the plate ready to bat. Photo Credit: Softball NSW

The focus in terms of preparation has been internal for the side, as there is always uncertainty of what the other teams might actually throw up due to it being an underage tournament without a lot of, if any, video footage to actually watch and break down. 

“[The focus has been] probably more internal as we’re not too sure about the other states.” Wulff had to say about the style of preparation.

“We’re just training to our best,” Taylor added.

“We’re trying to achieve everything we can with the short amount of time we have.

“We’re trying to train as hard as we can so we can perform the best.” 

Rindfleish reiterated this point when asked about it, while emphasising the importance of the team culture they are trying to build.

“The preparation has totally been around our players. Giving them the skills, knowledge and passion to play the game to their potential. Pushing them into new areas of play that extend them further down the path of elite softball,” Rindfleish said.

“All whilst building a team culture that drives the individual players to come together and do whatever is necessary for the team to be successful.

“Opposition scouting and strategy will come during the tournament, then we will use our teams’ strengths to take on the opposing states.”

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With the tournament taking place over a period of four days, there are eight games per team to fit in over the course of the first three days during the group stages, plus potentially 3 more games across the final day depending on results. 

The rigorous toll that takes on such a young body is something that these players have to overcome to walk away victorious.

“It will be pretty heavy on our bodies, but with training three times a week, it’s allowed us to develop and not get fatigued,” Wulff said when asked about the toll it will take on the team.

“All the training’s been helpful and I don’t think we’ll struggle as much as other teams.”

“We’ve been training three to four times a week and even if it’s raining, we have somewhere to train, so we are always getting used to putting our bodies on the line and training hard every training,” Taylor continued on.

“I think we’ll go alright.” Taylor said with a little bit of confidence.

Captain Evan Wulff getting ready to deliver a pitch. Photo Credit: Softball NSW

One of the things that makes it easier to cope with the rigours and the demand, is the honor of getting to represent and compete at such a high level for the state team in such a prestigious championship, which Wulff described as “phenomenal”, while Taylor described it by saying “it feels good” before expanding on that answer.

“Representing the Waratah, playing together, versing other states, it’s pretty good. I really enjoy it.”

For NSW, the key to walking away victorious with the Nox Bailey Shield is going to be making sure everyone comes together to do their job as part of the team.

“Staying [together] as a team, and everyone doing their job, and executing,” is what Evan identified as the key aspects to victory, which Taylor agreed with.

“Team’s a big role here.

“I reckon we’ll perform to our best, and just play together and win.”

Rindfleish talked along the same lines, putting a heavy emphasis on just how important the team culture is for the squad.

“Our team plays for the name on the front of the shirt, not on the back. We are building a team with fantastic skills, mentally focused and a passion for NSW that will stand up to our competition.”

Coaching during COVID-19

Coaching and selecting a representative squad is a rather difficult job. You have to find the right mix of players, make sure they can play in multiple areas to cover for injuries or absences, and make sure they all work well together inside the team unit and believe in the team ethos.

You also have to deal with plenty of external challenges, and none have been bigger over the last two years than COVID-19.

“Coaching performance teams always have some sort of challenges. This year it has been Covid. The lockdown periods did delay our start date, but we are now on the way,” Rindfleish said.

“We have not allowed the restrictions to temper our drive for success. We may have had to alter our training methods a little, however, this has not stopped us from preparing for the championships.”

Being an outdoor sport, the added difficulty of the unpredictability of the weather also occasionally plays an issue. With Australia currently experiencing a longer than usual La Niña weather cycle, has resulted in periods of heavy rain, which can wreak havoc on preparation for a tournament.

But where there is a will, there is a way to overcome this.

“We have not missed an opportunity for the team to come together for any session. On some occasions, we were forced to train indoors or have whiteboard strategy sessions when the weather has not been kind. We have taken every opportunity for our team to develop.”

One thing that is never lost on Rindfleish is the honour of getting to coach a representative team.

“To represent your state is a huge honour for everyone, player and staff alike. Even after 30 years of representing as a player and a coach it still gives me such pride to pull on the uniform.

“To coach athletes that are the best in our state is wonderful. To see them grow throughout the preparation for the championship, to then compete for the title of National Champion pushes me to learn and become a better coach every year for them.

“The players are thirsty for knowledge and skill and I am too, always trying to find new ways to help our athletes achieve their goals. I absolutely love it.”

The U18 boys and girls National Softball Championships take place at Blacktown International Sportspark between Thursday 14 April and Sunday 17 April, 2022 (inclusive). Tickets can be purchased here.

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