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By GARY KINGSTON

SURREY — She’s a mom of two now, a 31-year-old who walked away from the softball diamond in 2014, seemingly for good. But for Danielle Lawrie, an opportunity at Olympic redemption has drawn her back to the pitching circle, to a game she’s says she’s falling in love with all over again.

The Langley native has rejoined the Canadian national women’s team this year with an eye to helping lead the No. 3-ranked country in the world to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics when softball returns to the five rings stage after a 12-year absence.

Lawrie and Canada will be at the Canada Cup International Tournament at Softball City in South Surrey July 17-22 in a final tune-up before the 2018 world championships in Chiba, Japan, in August. That tournament will serve as the first Olympic qualifier.

But the two-time NCAA player of the year while at the University of Washington is excited about the opportunity to create happier memories by winning a medal in 2020.

“Obviously, this is a huge goal I’m going after and I will do everything in my power to achieve what the team wants and however I can help.”

Lawrie was very sharp during Canada’s 11-game tour of Japan in June and is set to lead Canada at the International Cup in Irvine, Calif., starting July 9.

“Danielle reached out to us and indicated she would like to give it a go,” said Canadian head coach Mark Smith of the veteran’s return. “We had a sit down, had a good talk from the perspective of the travel schedule and what would be required. Once we got in a place where it was a doable thing, it was just a matter of her getting in shape. She’s looked really strong so far.”

The Canada Cup starts two days after the International Cup ends and the tournament has attracted four of the top 12 countries in the current world rankings — Canada (No. 3), Czech Republic (No. 10), New Zealand (No. 12) and China (No. 12). No. 23 Korea will also be on hand, with the field rounded out by the Canada Elite squad and club teams from Calahoo, Alta., White Rock and Fort Collins, Colo.

The return of softball to the Olympics has meant increased resources into the Canadian program, allowing the women’s squad to train in California before and after the Japan tour.
“For sure, the OTP (Own the Podium) funding has ramped up, ramped up our ability to do more, to train more than in the past,” said Smith. “We know we can compete with the top countries and now it’s just about investing even more in our preparation, having more resources to better support our athletes with professionals in sport science.”

“We’re viewed as a targeted sport that can legitimately medal in 2020.”

Canada Cup chairman Greg Timm says his tournament continues to provide a key building block for the national team, which he notes has the highest world ranking of any Canadian team in a sport outside of hockey.

The Canada Cup recently signed a new five-year partnership with CBC Sports to livestream every international game of the tournament at cbcsports.ca as well as via the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices.

“Being an Olympic sport again has made a huge difference,” said Timm. “And this is a good opportunity for fans to see Canada against some countries that are going to give them a good test.”

Timm said he expects the return of Lawrie and a better summer from standout pitcher Sara Groenewegen, who came up through the White Rock Renegades program, should help attendance. He’s also anxious to see how some of the newer players to the national team program push for world championship roster spots.

“There are some long-time players who are really going to have to work their butts off.”

The Canada Cup tournament will also once again feature four other divisions — the Futures (U19) Select and Showcase (U16) Select, both of which will begin play on July 13, and the Futures (U19) Gold and Showcase (U16) Gold, which will start on July 16.

Information regarding tickets can be found online at www.canadacup.com or by phone at 604-536-9287.