UBCO Heat women’s softball team head coach Joni Frei (left) has been involved with Canadian softball for years, including coaching Canada Futures, an intiative where a Canadian squad is formed for exhibition tours playing against U.S. university teams. (contributed)

Jitters not an issue for UBC Okanagan softball squad ahead of first-ever season

The women’s Heat squad starts their season Aug. 30

They haven’t played an official game together yet, but members of the UBC Okanagan Heat women’s softball team are ready for their inaugural season playing in the WCSA.

Just over six months ago, the idea of a collegiate level softball team in the Okanagan was simply that—an idea.

Now, with just two weeks of practice under their belts, the Heat will play their first game in the Western Collegiate Softball Association this weekend.

That might be scary for some coaches, but not for Heat skipper Joni Frei.

“We’re not focusing on any challenges other than overcoming them,” Frei said.

“It’s been pretty magical these past few weeks and we’re excited to get on the field and see what this team can do.

“But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and we’re looking forward to stepping out on the field everyday as a team.”

READ MORE: Securing Olympic spot the latest test for Canadian softball squad at B.C. tournament

Frei has been coaching softball her entire life. She grew up in Kelowna, graduated from Mount Boucherie Secondary and has coached at almost all levels of women’s softball.

Starting a collegiate level softball team in the Okanagan was something Frei looked into after returning to Canada from coaching in the U.S. almost 10 years ago.

Frei has recruited players from across Canada and the U.S. to fill out the UBCO roster.

While Frei’s experience was a big drawing point for some of the players, she has also put together a passionate, experienced and dedicated coaching staff to get the Heat program off the ground.

“There was no shortage of people wanting to help and support,” she said.

“We have 10 coaches, eight of them women and all hands are on deck. People are buying and owning their roles and that is what has made this team possible.”

READ MORE: Okanagan draws in Metro Vancouver softball star

Like most Canadian university sports programs, community support is needed to support the women’s softball team.

The Heat has secured support from Coca-Cola and Sun-Rype and is hoping to enhance that community investment in the future.

The challenge at the team’s outset will be to reward the community’s faith in the women’s softball program, she acknowledges.

“These girls are used to challenges,” said Frei.

“I like that they’re fresh and not fatigued from a long summer. We have depth, talent, numbers and a great coaching staff.

“We aim to compete in this league, and we’re going to do it in our own classy way.”

The UBCO Heat first game in the WCSA will be on their home diamond against the Calgary Dinos at Nigh Noon Park tonight (Friday), 6 p.m.

It will be familiar terrain for Frei as she often played softball at High Noon growing up in the Okanagan.

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