When the U13 St. Albert Angels started the season in April, they mainly played in front of family — parents, grandparents, siblings, and dogs lined the backfield in folding camp chairs.
Just four months after the season's first pitch was thrown, the Angels found themselves competing some 3,400 kilometres from home in front of packed bleachers, ticket-takers, and screaming fans. Oh, and on television, too.
The Angels made history this summer.
They were the first team from Alberta in more than 20 years to represent Canada at the Little League Softball World Series held annually in Greenville, North Carolina. The 12-team tournament consists of eight American teams and four international teams.
The Angels qualified for the World Series by winning the national title in Victoria at the beginning of August, and before that, the provincial title in Calgary in July.
The Angels didn't go far in the World Series, as they lost their only two games, but they played with pride.
“It was kind of overwhelming at first when we got here," said 12-year-old left fielder Tatum Lecavalier from her dorm room in Greenville. "The atmosphere I’m not used to — usually there’s 20 people in the crowd for us."
With upwards of 200 people on hand to take in the Angels' first World Series game on Aug. 9, Lecavalier said it wasn't long before the wall of noise from screaming fans got her blood pumping.
"I was so excited about going up to bat and seeing so many people watching me,” Lecavalier said.
The pressure proved to be no problem for the young athlete either as she tallied half the team's hits in the tournament, and managed to draw two walks as well.
"I never knew that I would actually come this far in my softball career when I’m 12," she said. "It's crazy."
"My teammates — I’m so proud of them for how hard they all worked," Lecavalier said. "I love this team a lot and how much energy they bring to this game and how much energy they bring to this whole entire sport.”
Lecavalier is one of only two Angels players who can return to the team next year as she and Emma Knechtel still have another year of U13 action to play, while the rest of team will be moving up to U15 ball next summer.
The Angels game against a team from Philippines representing Asia-Pacific on Tuesday, Aug. 9 was a true pitching duel. Asia-Pacific's starting pitcher, Jacey Pajotal, held the Angels to two hits over six innings while racking up 11 strikeouts.
The Angels got off to a shaky start on defence as Asia-Pacific scored the game's only run in the first inning after an Angels error. On the mound for the Angels was Ella Stranaghan, who settled the team down after the first inning and only gave up one hit across five innings. Stranaghan also collected seven strikeouts in the 1-0 loss.
In their second tournament game on Thursday, Aug. 11, the Angels lost 4-0 to New England — one of the eight U.S. teams.
Another shaky defensive start saw the Angels give up two quick runs in the bottom of the first, and New England never looked back. The Angels registered six errors through five innings of play.
New England's starting pitcher, Maddy Bonanno, and the Angels' starting pitcher, Stranaghan, each registered six strikeouts, gave up four hits, and walked two batters.
Down to their final three outs, the Angels did threaten to score on New England during the top of the sixth as Jacey Johnson and Lecavalier registered back-to-back singles, but Bonanno closed the door.
As the Angels represented Canada, the team got a batch of new Team Canada jerseys, new bats, and some training apparel, all of which the athletes can keep as souvenirs, and reminders of their success.
“It made me feel really important and taken care of," short stop Lexi McKay said of her new gear.
“The experience has been really good and really fun," McKay said. “I never thought we’d even get the chance to even come down and do stuff like this.”
When asked if she had any advice for athletes younger than herself, McKay said never give up, and, "if you work hard, you can achieve anything you want.”
Lecavalier's advice: "Don't have your head down when you lose a game and make your teammates feel better about themselves.”
McKay's mother, Sara, said after the Angels were eliminated from the tournament on Aug. 11, the team gathered in head coach Dianna Jordison's room to reflect on their time together.
“There were tears and I think they were happy tears of overwhelming experience,” Sara said. “It has been an absolutely amazing experience for these girls ... they’ve grown a lot as young athletes and as young people.”