SUCCESS FOR THE WOMEN'S TEAM
Ed Dolejs was the men’s team’s trainer in 1976, and took over as head coach for the New Zealand women’s team in 1977. The women won their first medal, a bronze, at the ISF World Championship in El Salvador in 1978. In 1982 Dolejs guided them to gold. Captained by Naomi Shaw, the team beat host nation Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) 2–0 in front of around 30,000 partisan fans. Dolejs’ team delivered another bronze medal at Auckland in 1986.
At the 1990 championship in Normal, Illinois, New Zealand and the US were tied 0–0 in the gold medal game. The ISF controversially decreed that the US should be awarded the gold medal because they were unbeaten in pool play, while New Zealand, in the tougher section, had lost 1–0 to Chinese Taipei.
The 1994 Women’s World Series was held in Newfoundland, Canada from 29 July through to 8 August in what turned out to be very cold conditions. We went into the tournament with the expectation of finishing in the top five and qualifying for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Unfortunately it was a huge disappointment for us all when we finished in 6th place and missed out on the Olympics by one place.
With one of the best pitchers in the world, in Gina Weber we went through the first round of section play unbeaten without conceding a run. We had wins over Argentina 11-0, Belgium 11-0, Croatia 20-0, Netherlands 7-0, Italy 8-0 and Columbia 11-0. This meant we had to play China, Canada and Chinese Taipei to advance to the semi-finals. Unfortunately our hitting power dried up and we lost each of these three games 0-1.
While Gina Weber was outstanding throughout the tournament and our fielding was amongst the best with only 5 errors from 240 chances, our batting let us down at crucial times. In the games against China, Canada and Chinese Taipei we had several chances to win the games but couldn’t put back-to-back hits together at the right time. So from scoring 68 runs in section play we could not score a single run in the play off games which drew a comment from one of the Canadian Officials that our players didn’t know that they had to turn left once they reached first base.
With several of the players retiring following the World Series the great heights achieved through the 80’s and into the 90’s has yet to be emulated.
2000 - THE OLYMPIC GAMES
Women’s softball was included in the Olympic Games from 1996 to 2008, as a counterpart to baseball which was a men-only Olympic sport. New Zealand qualified only once, for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The New Zealanders finished sixth, after playing against tough opposition. They won their games against Canada (3–2) and Cuba (6–2), but were defeated by Australia (2–3), China (0–10), Italy (0–1) and Japan (1–2). Softball and baseball were both dropped from the Olympics after 2008, much to the disappointment of the New Zealand and international softball communities.
Saskatoon, Canada, was the host city for the 2002 World event which featured 16 participating nations who displayed superb softball skills to excellent attendances.
The White Sox finished third in pool play after a heart-breaking, 1-2, to Japan and well beaten, 2-7, by Australia.The NZ team recorded 5 wins including a crucial 2-1 win over Venezuela.
In the Play-offs NZ national team had a superb 3-0 victory over Italy. The NZ hitters recorded 14 hits off the strong Italian pitching
The NZ defence was solid plus an outstanding pitching performance from 18 year old Ali Arnold ensured the team had a chance of making the top four and automatic qualification for the Athens Olympics.
The next play-off game against China epitomised the terms, “If only” and “What if”,
As all the game stats show the NZ had every opportunity to score many runs with numerous base-runners including 8 hits to China’s 3 hits. An amazing defensive play by the China 3B saved two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, final score China 4 NZ 2
Ali Arnold had a brilliant rookie world championship debut, her superb pitching enabled the NZ team to be competitive against all teams plus some outstanding defence by the NZ infield.
The 2006 world event was held in Beijing as a prelude to the 2008 Olympics. Two superb softball stadiums with all the latest technology, spacious dugouts, excellent warm-up areas and very hot conditions made for an exciting tournament dominated by the USA and Japan.
The NZ team struggled at this championship winning only three games while being out-classed by Canada, USA and China and did not score one run in any of these games.
In the crucial game against Great Britain to qualify for the play-offs NZ led 1-0 going into the bottom of the 7th. With two outs and the bases loaded a pinch-hitter delivered the clutch hit down the left field line to give GB a 2-1 victory and elimination for the White Sox.
The MVP for the White Sox was Kalala Gabriel who batted just below .400 and was excellent in defence at 2B
The team unity was excellent throughout all the many disappointments however the skill level of the Pitchers and Hitters (apart from Kalala) was not competitive against the top nations.