Surely not that much has changed in the past 12 months.
Mt Albert Ramblers coach Venita Hokai shakes her head and tries to understand how her defending open women's club softball champions have slipped to third seeds for this year’s tournament, which begins today at Lower Hutt’s Fraser Park.
Auckland club champions Western Magpies have been installed as favourites, with runners-up Otahuhu in second and then Ramblers.
Nothing much has separated those three clubs and fourth-ranked Waitakere Bears – beaten by Ramblers in last year’s final – all season, but the titleholders are feeling a tad miffed at their slide down the rankings.
That can only mean bad news for their rivals.
“I think it’s pretty much open to anybody from Auckland,” says Hokai, who stepped down from the day-to-day coaching role this season to concentrate on her Junior White Sox duties. She has only taken the reins this week to allow player/coach Tuhi Cooper to concentrate on her playing role.
“I think an Auckland team will win it. We probably should have been seeded one or two – I don’t see how we could drop from first to third.”
Hokai reasons that the weekly Auckland competition is no real guide to tournament form and with four strong pitchers in her rotation, she’s confident her team is better equipped than most for this format.
The Ramblers battery is spearheaded by Michal Tangaroa – daughter of Black Sox pitching legend Chubb – who finished last year’s competition with the lowest Earned Run Average (0.48), while playing for the Bears.
“We have a pretty decent pitching staff compared to the other teams, so we’ll be tough on the mound,” says Hokai.
“We’re not as experienced as last year, especially in the outfield, and I don’t think we’re as fast, but we’ve got some very good hitters.”
Last year’s success broke a 20-year title drought for the proud Auckland club, so they won’t be giving their crown without a fight.
Ramblers open their account today against Porirua City, while Magpies face locals Saints and Otahuhu take on Johnsonville.
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