It was a fitting conclusion to an amazing run for one of the greatest teams in the history of girls' softball in Delta.
The 2001 Delta Heat rolled to seven straight victories to capture USA Softball’s 18UA Western Nationals in Salem, Oregon — defeating California’s Benicia Outlaws 5-0 in the final, behind the complete game pitching performance of Rawnie Weststrate. The result capped a memorable two-week stretch that began with another unbeaten run at the Provincial U19A Championships at Softball City.
It’s believed the Heat are the first Canadian entry to ever win a U.S. championship.
It was back in January when the girls decided themselves to forgo the Canadian Championships in Kitchener and finish their season a few weeks earlier in Salem. Standout pitchers Kianna Jones and Weststrate would not have been available for nationals due to their commitment with the Canadian Junior women’s team.
The Oregon trip also reflected their decision a year earlier that the 2019 campaign would be the last in youth rep fastpitch for the eight graduating players who are all taking their careers to the university level. They still had one more year of eligibility remaining at U19.
“The decision was completely up to them. I told them we could pick-up a couple pitchers and go to nationals but they wanted to finish this playing all together one final time,” said Heat head coach Bill Olexa. “When you look at what these girls accomplished on and off the field, in my mind, they will go down as the greatest team ever in Delta. They were just the whole package. A very special group of young ladies.”
Olexa knows a thing or two about championship teams in girls rep fastball. He and assistant Bob Houtman enjoyed a dominant four-year run with the 1996 Delta Heat, that included a national title, before committing to the 2001 group where they were joined by Doug Harris.
“When they asked me to coach them, it was a no brainer. You could tell when these girls were in U10 and going to clinics they were going to be special.”
The Heat proceeded to finish second at the U14 provincial and national championships and two years later broke through to win both titles, including a thrilling 2017 U16A Canadian final on home soil at North Delta Community Park.
The winning continued at U19 with provincial and national bronze last summer against older opponents — setting the stage for another decorated campaign this season to go out in the glory.
What set these girls apart was their contributions beyond the diamond. They gave back to the game by leading youth clinics and doing charity work. They also were involved in the non-profit 140 Sports Association — run by longtime local coaches Fred Wells, Dave Rally and Harris.
Last summer, a number 2001 Heat players went right from an exhausting month of playoff ball to spend time teaching the game and delivering equipment to First Nations kids in Port Hardy.
It was an another opportunity for these now close friends to do something together and that bond was a huge part of their success.
“They are going to go off to their different schools but without a doubt they are going to remain very close like a family,” added Olexa. “There was a Super Heroes theme night at the US Nationals and the girls really got into it with the costumes and ended up winning a pizza party. That’s the way they approached everything. Just a fun and special group to be around.”
Through all the highly competitive games and tournaments over the years, Olexa always threw in some practical jokes, especially on tournament road trips. His usual target was his longtime assistant Houtman but this final time it would be on his players.
He convinced them U.S. Softball rules had a pitch count and he needed to declare two other pitchers besides Jones and Weststrate for the tournament. None of the other girls had thrown competitively since their days in Mite ball.
Olexa even held auditions with each player taking turns in the pitching circle during a pre-tournament practice. It wasn’t until after the final and the girls preparing to head home he casually sent a text to inform them of his prank.
Just part of the fun on this team’s amazing journey.
2001 Delta Heat Honour Roll
U14 Canadian Jamboree Champions
U14A Provincial Runners-up
U14 National Runners-up
Delta Rotary Helping Hand Youth Award
U16 Provincial Champions
U16A National Champions
Softball B.C. Team of the Year
U19A Canada Cup bronze
U19A Provincial bronze
U19A Nationals bronze
U19A Provincial Champions
18U USA Softball Western Champions
Roster: Gabrielle Dorval, Aymee Godmaire, Hanna Hansen, Megan Hendrickson, Autaum Hilyer, Emily Horne, Kianna Jones, Olivia Malesku, Veronica Sawatsky, Stephanie Schina, Rawnie Weststrate, Jessie Westrate, Cat Hedin, Sophia Buckberger.
Coaches: Bill Olexa, Bob Houtman, Doug Harris.