Winning gold in fastpitch at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Regina, Sask., July 20-27 was amazing for Naramata’s Hayden Craig.
She and Erin Gabriel represented the Okanagan on a team that featured players from the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Prince George.
Craig and Gabriel helped Team B.C. defeat Team Wisconsin 9-0, in a rematch for the championship. Craig said both teams entered the game knowing they hadn’t played their best in the first meeting, a 16-12 B.C. win.
“We didn’t take them for granted going into the final. They were a very good team,” said Craig.
In other round robin games, B.C. doubled up Saskatchewan 8-4 and whipped Nova Scotia 17-0 to finish 3-0.
While only practising a couple of times prior to heading for Regina, Craig said the team clicked immediately.
“We just kept winning and supporting each other,” said Craig. “That was fun to be a part of.”
B.C. coach Michelle Webster said in a release that she is proud of the team for the way they came together.
“I could not have asked for a better group of girls to go through this experience with,” she said. “We had contribution through the lineup every day; every last one of them left everything they had out there.”
Craig said there were three strong teams (New York was the only other squad with B.C. to be undefeated in round robin play) and that the other squads were equal. In the five games for placings, two were decided by 10 or more runs.
Craig enjoyed NAIG off the field equally.
“It was definitely a lifetime experience. It was very cultural,” she said. “We got to go to a cultural village. There were a lot of teepees set up with different indigenous games to play. They had dancers for the ceremony. The closing ceremony had a tribe perform.
“I think meeting new people and experiencing the culture of it all,” is what she will cherish, added Craig. “Everyone was so nice. Cheered on other teams. It was like a big family all supporting each other.”
The gold medal win contributed to Team B.C. making history at NAIG as they are the first team to win both the overall team title and the John Fletcher Spirit Award. The John Fletcher Spirit Award is presented to the team that best demonstrates the spirit of teamwork, fair play, respect and integrity throughout the week.
Team B.C. competed in 13 sports and won 160 medals (63 gold, 49 Silver, 48 bronze). This put the team in first place. This is the first time B.C. has won the overall team title at the NAIG.
NAIG is an international multi-sport event, involving athletes from 13 provinces and territories in Canada and 13 regions in the U.S. staged intermittently since 1990.
The event brought together 6,000 athletes and coaches and more than 3,000 host community volunteers and 200 cultural and entertainment performers.
Gabriel could not be reached for comment.