Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pair moving to Florida to study, play softball

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HOLLY Kitchen and Sarah Belanger will be teammates in Miami this season.

Both athletes have been awarded scholarships to play softball at Florida International University, an NCAA Division 1 school. Belanger has a 'full-ride' scholarship, while Kitchen will be partially funded.

"It feels great to get a scholarship. I feel relief and excitement at the same time because it's been a goal of mine to go down there for a long time," says Kitchen, 18, an outfielder with the Winnipeg Ice in the midget division of the Manitoba Super Softball League.

"I'm not assured of a starting spot. There's a fall league that starts before the regular season, and how you play there determines who makes the team as a starter."

Belanger is a pitcher for the Midget A Lightning.

"I'm happy about the scholarship. It's a good opportunity to improve," says Belanger, 18.

Although she hits with power, Belanger's main strength is on the mound, emphasizes Mike Pyle, head coach of the Lightning.

"She throws the ball at 65 miles per hour. The fastest women pitchers in the world throw at 70. I absolutely believe she'll be on the Olympic team some day," says Pyle, adding that the graduate of JH Bruns Collegiate is among the top three under-19 pitchers in Canada.

At last year's national midget championships, where the Lightning came second, Belanger was named MVP of the playoffs, he notes. The Lightning placed third at the 2004 nationals in Calgary.

"She's made herself that good through hard work. She's a team player. We're very proud of her," adds Pyle.

Kitchen, a graduate of Oak Park Collegiate, was in the top 20 hitters with two home runs, five runs batted in, eight runs scored (the most in the tournament) and a .340 batting average in the round-robin portion of the recent national championships. Her team placed seventh out of 16 teams, notes her coach and father, Howard Kitchen.

"I'm really excited about the scholarship. She's always wanted to play in the Sun Belt," he says.

Kitchen, who was named athlete of the year at Oak Park in Grade 10, has been playing softball since age eight. She started at the community club level at Kirkfield Westwood C.C., then joined the powerhouse Smitty's Terminators before switching to the Ice two years ago.

Kitchen was also named MVP of the 2004 provincial high school basketball championships, which was won by Oak Park. Kitchen was named the school's top female nasketball player at her school this year.

"It was a tough decision choosing between basketball and softball because they've both been such a big part of my life for a lot of years," says Kitchen.

"But putting time and commitment into one sport will allow me to move my game up to a higher level, and I like the competition in softball. It's a complete team game."

Belanger, who also played basketball and volleyball in high school, says practice has helped make her the softball player she is today.

"I'm a player who has to practise a lot to get better. I'm fortunate to have catchers on my team who catch for me in the gym during the winter. The reason I play is because of my teammates."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 1, 2004 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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