An international stage for softball
What started as a simple Google search out of curiosity led to lifelong memories and friendships for St. Olaf College softball player Sydney Robson ’22.
As a junior at Catholic Central High School in Burlington, Wisconsin, Robson, a dual citizen whose father was born and raised in England, decided to do a search online about the United Kingdom softball team.
“I always knew the UK had a team,” Robson says. “It was always just a dream of mine to play for them.”
Robson found out that the team was in the midst of a trials period for the upcoming World Championships. She submitted an interest application she found online and, after a few emails back and forth, was fully involved in the trial process.
As part of the process, Robson submitted two videos highlighting her skills and fitness, as well as some written essay responses. Eventually, the coaches put Robson on the U19 reserves team, meaning she did not travel with the team but could be called upon if someone else was unable to play.
“Even though I was not on the official team that year, it led me to work even harder the following year by making the few adjustments they wanted me to make and fine-tuning the skills they said they were impressed by,” Robson says. “Come my second year of trials, I was a completely different player.”
Sydney Robson ’22It was always just a dream of mine to play for them.
Last year, Robson went through another run of trials in the hopes of making the U19 and U22 teams that would be competing in the European Championships that summer. This time, the coaching staff requested more videos — adding in more fielding drills and an introduction video designed to allow them to get to know the athletes better.
She soon found out she had made the team.
“I was absolutely ecstatic,” Robson says. “I got the email while I was in class and I spent the rest of the period reading over the email to make sure I really had made it.”
After winning the London Cup and a completing a week of training in London, Robson and the U19 team headed to Italy for the U19 European Championships from July 16-21, 2018, in Staranzano, hoping to defend their title from 2016. The tournament was Robson’s first taste of international softball.
“International softball is a completely different experience than any softball I have played in the states,” she says. “The first time we played a team whose native language was not English, I was thrown for a loop. In that setting, you have to rely more on reading the game and less on picking up what they are saying — but there is just something unique that comes along with representing a country.”
Team Great Britain finished the tournament in sixth with a 5-4 record, including wins over Russia, Denmark, Ireland (twice), and France. Robson played in eight of the nine games, scoring four runs and driving in two more.
Just two days later, the U22 European Championships began in Trnava, Slovakia, and half of the U19 roster, including Robson, traveled to Slovakia to join up with the rest of the U22 roster. Team Great Britain went 7-4 at the tournament, dropping the bronze medal game to Ireland, with Robson hitting .267 (4-for-15) with three runs and three RBI.
“Playing internationally and visiting different countries is amazing in itself, but what really made the trips special was my teammates,” says Robson, a psychology and political science major at St. Olaf. “When you spend every waking hour together, you get pretty close and they are now some of my best friends. We are passionate about our sport, our country, and each other, and that is exactly the kind of support system I love having in my life.”
The next tournament for Team Great Britain was the Canada Cup, held earlier this month in Surrey, British Columbia. With the 2020 Summer Olympics on the horizon and the women’s team receiving national funding for the first time, the selection process for the tournament was even more drawn out than before.
First, there was a five-day training camp in Florida in January, which Robson was able to attend by making arrangements with her St. Olaf professors in The Great Conversation program on campus. Robson ended up missing one day of the camp, but her coaches were equally understanding, and the camp allowed Robson to interact with the coaches in person, in contrast to the videos from prior trials, and meet several new teammates.
After the camp, the coaches trimmed the roster down to a “Long List” of 25 players. Robson hoped to make the list for the U22 team — but she also made the long list for the full national team, which came as a shock to her.
Sydney Robson ’22What really made the trips special was my teammates. When you spend every waking hour together, you get pretty close and they are now some of my best friends. We are passionate about our sport, our country, and each other, and that is exactly the kind of support system I love having in my life.
After the long lists were announced, Robson went through another period of trials. This round allowed athletes to send data from wherever they were using technology called blast sensors and push bands, meaning Robson could do this from St. Olaf.
Balancing her coursework, her first season of collegiate softball as a member of the St. Olaf softball team, and the requirements of the trial was a challenge for Robson, but a month later she found out she made the cut for the U22 team and would be heading to Canada.
The day the news went public, Robson was on campus and immediately shared her accomplishment with St. Olaf Head Softball Coach Kayla Hatting.
“My reaction was nothing but pure excitement for Syd,” Hatting says. “We talked a lot about it when she was leaving for tryouts in January and she was really hoping to make the U22 team, but knew it would be tough to do so. So when she came into my office to let me know she made it, I just had a big smile on my face of pure joy and pride for what she accomplished.”
At the Canada Cup, Robson and her teammates competed against some of the top teams in the world, including Canada and Chinese Taipei, as well as an all-star team out of Colorado comprised of some of the top Division I players. Canada is currently ranked No. 3 in the world and Chinese Taipei is ranked No. 6.
“Even though we didn’t necessarily achieve the outcomes we wanted in our games, we played well and improved immensely as the tournament went on,” Robson says. “We were a young team playing in the women’s division, setting ourselves up for a tough schedule. Every at bat made me a better player, as I was going up against some of the best pitching in the world.”
St. Olaf Head Softball Coach Kayla HattingShe is playing with and against women at the highest level, being coached by mentors who will elevate her game, and traveling to places some of us never will. This experience will not only make her a better softball player but will also expand her viewpoints and challenge her as a young woman.
Outside of the games, Robson and her teammates also had the chance to spend a day running a youth came for girls ages 7-14. For Robson, this was another part of what has been a life-changing experience.
“Playing for Team GB is a life-changing experience for me that I am grateful to have,” she says. “I am blessed with an amazing coaching staff that works to make me a better player in the short time they have me. Additionally, playing against and being able to sit and watch some of the biggest names in softball makes me not only a better athlete, but a smarter athlete.”
Hatting says the entire experience will benefit Robson in ways that go beyond the softball diamond.
“This is another experience to widen the already well-rounded softball background that Syd has,” Hatting says. “She is playing with and against women at the highest level, being coached by mentors who will elevate her game, and traveling to places some of us never will. This experience will not only make her a better softball player but will also expand her viewpoints and challenge her as a young woman.”