During her first two years at Manchester High, Lauren Packer was a member of the girls’ softball team.
This summer, though, she will be playing at a much more competitive level as a member of the Irish National Team, which will be competing in the World Championships in Surrey, British Columbia.
“I’m so excited,” said Lauren, who was born in Manchester and is not an Irish citizen but is eligible for the team as a ‘heritage’ player because her mom, Nuala, was born in Roscommon County.
Lauren is scheduled to leave July 9 and then spend about two weeks in Vancouver in July, with five days of training, followed by three exhibition games and then the tournament itself
Team Ireland is in an opening group that also includes Canada (ranked no. 4 in the world), Great Britain (no. 14) and Uganda. Incidentally, the top three teams in the world are Japan, the United States and Australia, respectively.
Lauren credits her MHS coach, Danielle Leone, with mentioning the possibility that having a parent from Ireland might open some doors in softball.
Lauren’s dad, Warren, made some inquiries online, thinking perhaps Lauren might be able to land a job at a summer softball camp in Ireland, or something of that sort.
But one thing led to another and Lauren -- who had a solid sophomore season at MHS, batting .367 with three triples, two home runs and 13 RBIs -- was asked to join the National Team.
“We would be delighted to welcome Lauren into the fold and would see her as a key player in the Team Ireland programme as we grow it moving into the future,” wrote Colum Lavery, president of Softball Ireland. He added: “Team Ireland sees the World Championships as a stepping stone in developing our programme towards a bid for the Olympic Games in 2020 and we are keen to bring younger Players to these World Championships to gain valuable experience.”
Lauren, who is 16, said she will be among the youngest players on the team. She said she doesn’t know how she will stack up talent-wise but believes that playing at a highly competitive level can only help.
She also said she has never met any of her future teammates in person, but has connected via email and social media with her soon-to-be roommate -- an Irish native who has lived in Holland for the past five years.
Right now Lauren is playing on two teams -- the All-Pro Rebels travel team and the Manchester entry in the Northern Connecticut Girls' Softball League.
She’ll have to leave those teams early for her Canada trip, but knows the experience at the World Championship could pay big dividends.
Softball, after all, was an Olympic sport from 1996 to 2008 but was then dropped. Organizers of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo are trying to get softball back on the menu, and if that’s the case Lauren said she could part of the Irish team that competes there.
She will be one of three or four high schoolers on the Irish team in Canada -- and thus if all goes well could be a key member of the Irish team for years come.
“This is like a tryout for the 2020 Olympics,” she said. “I’ve been counting down the days until I leave!”