Collingwood, Victoria, Australia (March 22, 2018) At some time in the future, Tamieka Whitefield will probably be up the front of a classroom in her career as a teacher. But that time may be a long way off. Before then, Whitefield has some softball to play.
At the moment she is listening to lectures, rather than giving them, one of thousands of students in the early stages of a university course. But unlike most, Whitefield will soon be putting her teaching course at Brisbane’s Griffith University on hold while she ventures to the USA with the Aussie Spirit in their debut season in the National Pro Fastpitch league.
Having just turned 19, Whitefield will be youngest Spirit player in the NPF. But any thoughts of her being overawed by being thrust into the spotlight so young are quickly dismissed.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, to play with the best,” she says. “I look at it as a great opportunity. I’m excited to take it on and show them what I can do.”
Aussie Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow is similarly unconcerned. “Tamieka is young but doesn’t get flustered by challenges or being asked to take her game to the next level,” Barlow says. “She will need to do it again in a few months’ time, but her history says she’ll be just fine.
“Tamieka is another young player who’s been consistently performing through the pathway and performed well at the 2017 Junior Women’s Worlds.
“She can cover multiple positions both in the infield and outfield and brings terrific speed, which is an attribute we are always interested in and will need at the World Championship in Chiba.”
That speed is a key to Whitefield’s game, and she is working to make it an even more important asset.
“Speed is definitely a key area of my game,” she says. “I’m working on it to improve and get even faster before I go away this year.”
With strength and conditioning coach Andrew Croll, Whitefield is working on refining her technique to gain a little more speed.
Whitefield began 2018 in a blaze of glory, helping Queensland win the Elinor McKenzie Shield as the Under-19 Australian champions and being named best player in the 5-4 win over New South Wales in the final. She was also named to the tournament All Star team at second base, although that is not to say it’s her only position.
“I enjoy being a bit of a utility. I love being able to play different positions and being thrown into wherever I’m needed. Outfield or infield, I enjoy them both.”
Coming from a softball family, Whitefield took up the game at age 9 and played at club level with the Scorpions in the Redlands Softball Association in Queensland.
The step up from playing in the Junior Spirit to Open Women’s competitions at international level is a huge one, but Whitefield seems to have adapted better than most. “It’s definitely a massive step, but it’s a great opportunity,” she says.
Some of the players she admired while growing up will be her teammates in the NPF and with the Aussie Spirit team at the XVI Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, Japan, in August.
Like many other young players over the years, she knows she can turn to Spirit captain Stacey Porter for advice and guidance about the challenges of international softball.
“Everyone looks up to Stacey Porter, no matter how old or young you are. I’ve got to know her, and she’s great to be around.”
While the NPF will be new territory for Whitefield, she won’t be totally unprepared, having spoken with Aussie Spirit teammates who played for the Chicago Bandits last year. “They all say it’s an awesome experience. The talent they have over there and the game time that they get, we have nothing like that in Australia. “I’ve heard a lot of good stuff, and now I’m really excited to head over.”
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National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), an Official Development Partner of Major League Baseball since 2004 provides elite female athletes with an opportunity to pursue a professional career in fastpitch softball beyond their collegiate and amateur success. The NPF affiliate teams consist of the Aussie Spirit, Beijing Shougang Eagles, Chicago Bandits, Cleveland Comets and USSSA Florida Pride for the 2018 season. National Pro Fastpitch players hail from the United States, Australia, Canada and China among which are the most accomplished and talented athletes in the sport of women’s softball.