Former Victoria softball star Smith readies Canadian women's team for Tokyo Olympics

It has been quite a career ride on the diamond for Mark Smith, from Royal Athletic Park to Yokohama Stadium.

The Canadian women’s softball team head coach and former Victoria Budgets pitching star named his final 15-player roster Wednesday for the Tokyo Olympics this summer. It includes infield standout Emma Entzminger of Victoria.

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“Emma’s defensive skills at third base are unparalleled,” said Smith, of the Lambrick Park Secondary product, out of San Jose State of the NCAA.

“She is a world-class talent and brimming with confidence. And Emma is now emerging as a hitter. Her game has evolved in great strides. We will be counting on Emma defensively and to chip in on offence in Tokyo.”

The announcement was a moment for Smith to reflect on his own playing career in Victoria, which included winning Canadian championships and the 1979 Pan Am Games gold medal in Puerto Rico back when the national club champion would don the Maple Leaf jersey and represent Canada internationally.

“The whole environment at Royal Athletic Park in those days, and all the fans who would come out to watch the games, made you feel like a pro. You were treated like a star everywhere you went around town in Victoria,” said Smith, who played in 1979 and 1980 for the Budgets and in 1990 for Victoria Payless.

“To be surrounded by talent such as Harvey Stevenson, Reg Underwood, Bob Burrows and Rob Guenter was all a young player such as myself could ask for.”

It led to a pitching career in which Smith was named to the top-10 of all-time greatest Nova Scotia athletes, a list headed by Sidney Crosby.

“That was truly humbling,” said Smith.

Now in the dugout, Smith guides a talented and Olympic podium-touted Canadian women’s team ranked No. 3 in the world behind the U.S. and Japan.

“The players have high expectations of themselves,” said Smith.

The team has been training in Florida for nearly three months and is 13-0 in games against teams such as the University of Florida Gators and the Italian Olympic team. The Canadian team will move this month to Illinois to play in the top U.S. senior league before departing for Tokyo.

All the Canadian players are fully vaccinated with two shots as the U.S. leads the world in the vaccine rollout. Seasonal residents of Florida, what the Canadian players are considered to be, are eligible for the vaccines.

“The pharmacies in Florida have a policy of not allowing any shots to spoil and we are viewed as seasonal residents. There was no push back,” said Smith.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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