Oregon’s 2018 softball season got something of an early start with an eight game foreign series in New Zealand over the Christmas break.
The Ducks left for Auckland on December 10th and returned on the 23rd. In addition to a series of four double-headers against the New Zealand White Sox and the New Zealand All-Star squad, the Ducks found time to explore some of head coach Mike White’s native country.
“The trip has been in planning for about a year,” White said. The NCAA allows each team one foreign trip every four years and this is the first for the program.
Amateur softball in New Zealand is organized as club or community organizations rather than the team aligning with an academic institution. The national program has sent a handful of athletes stateside and White ticked off a half dozen names players with NCAA and/or Olympic experience that would face the Ducks, adding “they will put up a fight for sure.”
The off days gave the Ducks a chance to take in some of the local highlights with the group spending the free time white water rafting, taking a jet boat tour of the Huka Falls, visiting the Waitomo glow worm cave and bungee jumping with White taking the first jump.
Throughout the stay the Ducks learned of the local Maori culture that predated the English colonization in the island nation with the traditional welcoming Haka dance performed for the team prior to the opening game of the series and a visit the Whakarewarewa Maori village.
As for the competition, things mostly went Oregon’s way with only a 4-2 setback to the White Sox over the eight games. Catcher Gwen Svekis swung a hot bat, hitting three home runs. Veterans Jenna Lilley and Lauren Lindvahl also did damage throughout the series. Pitchers Megan Kleist and Maggie Balint appeared to be in mid season form, striking out 11 and 10 respectively in their last outings.
Back in Eugene, the Ducks now will enjoy the rest of the Christmas break before reassembling after the first of the year to gear up for a 2018 campaign with high expectations. Oregon will open the season against the Georgia Bulldogs in the Kajikawa Classic tournament in Tempe on February 9th.
The Ducks will open the home schedule at Jane Sanders Stadium on Thursday, March 8th, hosting Toledo in the Oregon Invitational. Weber State, Montana and Bryant will also compete over the four day event.
Pac-12 play begins the following weekend with the Ducks hosting UCLA beginning Friday, March 16.
~ Rick Morgan