YORKTON – If you follow women’s softball in Canada, you’ll recognize Kaleigh Rafter’s name.
Rafter, a native of Guelph, Ont., Has been with the squad for years as a wide receiver – he joined the squad in 2007 and has racked up a pretty impressive resume since then, including the Summer Olympics. from Beijing in 2008.
Olympic.ca also noted that “at the WBSC Women’s World Softball Championship, she (Rafter) has represented Canada in all events since 2010 and was on bronze medalist teams in 2010, 2016 and 2018. She has also competed at the last four Pan American Games, winning silver medals in 2007, 2011 and 2019 to go with a gold medal at the 2015 competition in Toronto.
“In the WBSC’s Olympic qualifiers for the Americas 2019, Rafter averaged 0.462 while crushing three home runs, including the one that clinched Canada’s victory to clinch its place at Tokyo 2020. In his second Olympics ( in Tokyo this summer) appearance, Rafter started six catcher games as Canada took home the bronze medal.
The bronze medal game was its last for Canada, however, as Rafter retired from competitive softball.
After an almost 15-year career with the Canadian team, this article could be a look back at a fairly long international career for her country, but rather it is the next chapter she will write in terms of softball.
Rafter, 35, has been named head coach of Canada’s women’s team replacing Mark Smith who announced his retirement in August.
The step seems huge, but maybe less for a veteran who has long been interested in training.
“I’ve been playing in the program for a while,” she said, adding that over the past few years she felt like she was kind of a player-coach to the point where she noted that her teammates “jokingly called me Coach Chevron.”
It was an almost inevitable situation given Rafter’s own interests.
“Since I was young I have turned to training,” she said. “I am passionate about the coaching process, so it was a pretty natural transition. ”
That interest was driven by the fact that Rafter is a wide receiver, a position that has spawned many ball coaches over the years, from Joe Torre to John Gibbons to Joe Girardi to Buck Martinez.
Rafter said as the receiver “you’re always trying to find a competitive advantage,” and that philosophy carries over directly to training.
The big thing coming from the receiver is the one position on the court with a view of every game.
“We’re the only ones who see the game that way,” she said, adding as a receiver, “… you should know where everyone is supposed to be and when they’re supposed to be there.”
This knowledge of the responsibility of each player on the pitch is another thing that will transfer well into Rafter’s role as coach.
Rafter also added that the catcher who has a relationship with the umpires and also provides insight into the game they can rely on.
That said, it will be a big step considering Mark Smith has been in the role for years.
“There’s always a learning curve when someone has done the job in the past 12 years,” Rafter said, adding “I think I’m as well prepared as I can get.”
And Rafter needs to be prepared as the national team have a busy schedule with the next Women’s Softball World Cup at the World Games scheduled for 2022 and the 2024 World Cup qualifiers also starting in 2022.
In 2022, Canada’s National Women’s Team is scheduled to compete in the Canada Cup in Surrey, BC (June 20-26), the World Cup / World Games in Birmingham, Alabama (July 9-13) and at the WBSC Pan American Championship of the Americas. (dates and place to be determined).
And, of course, there’s an eye on the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028, the next opportunity for softball to get involved as they were kicked off the sports roster in Paris in 2024.
“We are hopefully entering the next Olympic cycle,” said Rafter, who noted that the decision on whether softball will be part of the 28 games will be announced in 2023.
With a number of players retiring after the bronze medal – around half a dozen of the team’s veterans could be part of the squad in 2028 – Rafter will initially entail some sort of rebuilding.
“The next few years are almost laying the groundwork,” she said, adding that it is certainly her plan to continue coaching the team in 2028.
In the short term, Rafter said the Canadian team will field “a lot of young players” who will gain “a ton of international experience”.
Retaining young players for the national program will be aided by a positive Olympic announcement for 2028, Rafter admitted in large part because players heading to the Olympics can expect more financial support.
The financial support means a player “doesn’t need to have a full-time job” and can focus more on softball, Rafter said.
But what about Rafter’s last game, the bronze medal effort in Tokyo?
“I knew it would be my last Olympics, my last time to represent the team as a player,” she said.
In the sixth round of the bronze game against Mexico, Rafter admitted she was nervous, but when the team came out of that round, she felt the game was theirs.
“When we walked through the seventh it was pure joy and exhilaration,” she said. “It was the last piece of the puzzle (for her playing career).”