By Madison Kelly
The 2021-22 Rams women’s fastpitch team had an entirely new look this season after undergoing a year-long rebuilding process.
The restructured team has hired new coaching staff, including Jason Saker as head coach, bringing nearly 30 years of coaching experience. He is joined by Abby Thompson, Samantha Jackson and Ron Lambert, who are the assistant coaches. Both Thompson and Jackson played on the 2019-20 Rams fastpitch team and were its pitchers.
Jackson recently graduated from Ryerson’s photography program in the spring of 2021. During the 2019-20 season, she was a pitcher and outfielder for the Rams, but missed out on her final season with the team due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After graduating and no longer being able to play in a university league, Jackson said she wanted to return to the Rams fastpitch team in some capacity.
“I was also eager to contribute to the community that had given me a sense of belonging from before I even started at Ryerson,” said Jackson.
Jackson travelled all the way from Vancouver to play with the Rams in the big city of Toronto.
“It was nice to know that I had an instant community I could belong to while moving to a new city,” said Jackson.
Although many of Jackson and Thompson’s teammates have graduated since the 2019 season, Quinn Danniels, Zoe Delorme, Daniela Fava, Mariana Fox, Jessica Sutton and Caitlin Tomotsugu are the remaining players.
“It was nice to know that I had an instant community I could belong to while moving to a new city”
Jackson added that rebuilding a team can be difficult, especially when choosing who should lead it.
“We wanted to have a mix of captains with different strengths and at different stages of their softball careers so that we can hopefully have some continuity,” said Jackson.
As for returning players, Danniels and Delorme were named co-captains for the season. Additionally, new recruit Madeline Gillis who plays both third base and shortstop also joined the team as a captain due to her immense skill in the infield.
While the roster turnover following the 2019 season was high, some players say it’s helped the team come out stronger.
“The entire team has shifted, I think for the better personally,” said Danniels. “We had a really good team dynamic before, but now we’re even closer as a group. We mesh really well together on and off the field.”
Jackson said one of the reasons why the team’s atmosphere has experienced a more positive shift is because the eagerness to get back to play overshadowed any interpersonal conflict within the team.
Gillis, who once had plans to go to Arizona State University, also travelled from Vancouver to Toronto to play for the Rams this year, after her plans to go abroad were cancelled due to the pandemic.
“Stepping on the field for the first time since [the pandemic], it was like pure excitement. It was the first time ever I wasn’t super nervous to be on the field. I was like ‘I made this team for a reason; I belong here,’” she said.
“We had a really good dynamic before, but now we’re even closer as a group”
For some players, however, it was nerve-wracking to return after being on such a long break.
Danniels recounts her experience of returning back to the sport differently than Gillis.
“I hadn’t swung a bat or thrown a ball since our last game in 2019. I was a little bit worried going into the season knowing I was super rusty,” said Danniels. “But we were super supportive of each other and we were rusty together.”
For Delorme, the atmosphere of the team hasn’t changed because she missed playing; for her, it’s better because of their new coaching staff.
“There’s a lot more transparency, communication and collaboration,” said Rams pitcher Delorme. “I feel comfortable going up and making my suggestions. I know I will be heard.”
Revamping the fastpitch team at Ryerson has helped build a better culture and many players say they’re excited to see the team grow. With a young roster, they’ll have the opportunity to improve together while chasing championships and maybe even reaching varsity status at the university.