Fastpitch, a high-speed variant of softball, is not a sport you may be familiar with—although it’s a staple at the Summer Olympics. In fastpitch, pitchers throw in a windmill motion in order to generate enough momentum to send the ball hurtling to the batter. The pitch speeds can exceed 130 km/h.
But, says Alicia Callaghan, “Pitching isn’t just about how fast you throw.”
Callaghan is in her first year at UTM studying sociology. She is a pitcher on the Varsity Blues fastpitch team and was one reason her team was able to finish fourth in the OIWFA standings.
A Mississaugan, Callaghan began her career in baseball after watching her older brother play the sport at an elite level. “After a year of baseball, I still didn’t feel like I had found the right sport for me,” she recalls. With the encouragement of her parents, she gave fastpitch a shot instead.
Callaghan played on the Mississauga North Tigers in house league and moved up to the Mississauga Southwest Baseball Association, where she played rep on the Hurricanes. Her desire to become a pitcher was kindled after watching American softball pitcher Jennie Finch play.
“I love pitching because of all the control you have on the mound,” says Callaghan. “Pitching that third strike to end the inning or being able to watch your teammates make awesome plays in the field is exhilarating.”
But Callaghan is not concerned with speed as much as accuracy. “It’s about being able to hit your spots, trust your catcher, and always staying three steps ahead of the batter,” she says. She estimates that her fastest pitch so far was around 85 km/h.
In her first season with the Blues, Callaghan saw the team bounce back from a miserable 2013 season ending in a 4-18 campaign to finish with a 14-12 record. For the Blues fastpitch team, who have not had a season this successful since 2011 when they reached the finals only to lose to Western, this was a return to glory. (Western proved to be U of T’s archrival yet again, beating the Blues 9-1 in the semi-final, and marching on to victory.)
Callaghan and her team are proud of their season, and with a core of first- and second-year players who know what it takes to win, the program looks like it will only trend upward.
“This was a really great season for us,” Callaghan says. “We had an incredible amount of talent and a ton of drive on our team.” Callaghan specifically mentions the efforts of her coaches.
In the offseason, Callaghan is coaching a Mite girl’s softball team and has considered the idea of coaching in the future. But for now, her priority is navigating her first year of university.
“It is definitely a challenge, especially with the transition from high school into university—the workload is totally different. But I’ve made some really great fiends and I’m finding all of my classes super interesting,” she says, citing Dax Urbszat’s first-year psychology class as one of her favourites.
After just two months in university, Callaghan has adjusted to the world of a student athlete. The hectic sport and school schedule and the endless commutes for practices or games have become something she’s used to. She’s grateful for the experience, and when asked if she’ll be returning to the mound next September, she answers “yes” without hesitation.