After a decade of hope, patience and devotion, Victoria Hayward is on the verge of living her Olympic dream.
The 2010 graduate of Mountain View High – who at 16 was the youngest player to make Canada’s national softball team and is now its longest-tenured member – helped the squad qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics earlier this month. When Hayward joined Team Canada in 2009, softball had just been dropped from the Olympics; next summer marks its return to the games.
“It’s super rewarding to be a part of this from the very first step and that I trusted that the moment was going to happen,” said Hayward, who was born in Toronto but moved to Mountain View at age 8. “It’s so fulfilling. It’s really special to have this opportunity.”
The 27-year-old started in left field for Canada at the qualifying tournament it hosted Aug. 25 through Sept. 1 in Surrey, British Columbia. Team Canada placed second, claiming the last Olympic berth offered at the World Baseball Softball Confederation Softball Americas Qualifier with its 7-0 rout of Brazil on the final day.
“It was really special that we got to host the event on our home field and qualify there,” Hayward said. “There were over 4,000 fans in the stands, and they came on the field after the game. Everyone cheered and celebrated with us, and we signed autographs and posed for pictures. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
Perhaps no one cherished the experience more than Hayward. It was a long time coming for the team captain – only head coach Mark Smith has been associated with the squad for as many years.
“It was a long journey to get (softball) back in the Olympics,” she said. “For a while, there was no end in sight, then in 2016 we found out it was going to be back in. It’s been a long three years since then, but Sunday (Sept. 1) made it all worth it.”
Hayward notched two hits in that decisive win over Brazil and finished the tourney with a robust .556 batting average – the second highest on her team. She totaled 10 hits – including a home run – drove in seven runs and scored eight times over Canada’s eight games.
“I played really well,” Hayward said. “Definitely better than I could have asked for. I couldn’t be happier.”
Canada went 7-1 in the qualifier and outscored its first six opponents by a combined 72-0. Mexico then squeaked by Canada 2-1 in a Super Round game Aug. 31 to clinch the first Olympic berth.
“Their pitcher (Dallas Escobedo) had a really good game,” Hayward said of Mexico, which Canada defeated several times earlier this year.
The Canadians also have defeated another highly ranked team this year: the United States. The Canadians edged the U.S. 3-2 in the semifinals of the Pan American Games last month in Lima, Peru.
“That was a big win for us,” said Hayward, who singled and scored a run in the victory.
The Americans, who qualified for the Olympics a year ago, avenged the loss the next day. The U.S. prevailed 3-2 in the gold-medal game, leaving Canada with the silver.
That didn’t deter Hayward, however. She remains confident that Canada is capable of toppling the U.S., top-ranked Japan or any other team that stands in its way at the Olympics.
“It’s been a long road chipping away at the U.S. and Japan as the best two in the world,” she said. “I think we have a great opportunity to medal – and our goal is to win a gold medal.”
To help make that happen, Hayward is training daily in Orlando, where she also works as the director of softball operations at the University of Central Florida.
Prior to the Pan Am Games and the WBSC Americas Qualifier, Hayward played in the National Pro Fastpitch softball league. She and the other members of her national team joined the league as the Canadian Wild of Southern Illinois and placed third out of six squads. Hayward batted .357 with two homers, three triples and 15 RBIs, earning her all-league honors and the Jennie Finch Award.
The next piece of hardware she wants to bring home is an Olympic gold medal. Hayward conceded that this could be her only shot at it.
“It’s the perfect way to go out – with a Cinderella storybook ending,” said Hayward, who noted that softball won’t be in the 2024 Olympics in Paris. “I fully intend to come back with the gold.”