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Laurier hockey great Ashley Stephenson lands in Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame


Only the second woman inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, Ashley Stephenson holds a proud hockey lineage. Gracing the ice in colors of the Laurier Golden Hawks, Brampton Thunder, Mississauga Chiefs and Burlington Barracudas, she headlined an accomplished generation of two-sport stars. The heartbeat of Baseball Canada’s infield from 2004-18, some of the hockey stars she called teammates on the diamond included Ella Matteucci, Autumn Mills, Kate Psota and the late Amanda Asay, among others.

Three years prior, the Hall welcomed their first female player into their hallowed ranks. A posthumous honor, Vancouver-born Helen Callaghan played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) from 1944 to 1949. As a side note, her son Casey Candaele spent two seasons in the 1980s with the Montreal Expos before a trade to the Houston Astros.

Belonging to an exceptional 2024 Hall of Fame Class, Richardson is intertwined with a celebrated group of baseball luminaries. Featuring long-time umpire and executive Howard Birnie, Paul Godfrey, essential in bringing the Blue Jays to Toronto, two-time Olympian Rod Heisler, Jimmy Key, a member of the 1992 Blue Jays World Series Team and four-time MLB All-Star catcher Russell Martin. Another former Blue Jay, Buck Martinez was bestowed the honor of the Jack Graney Award for Media.

Currently, it is highly fitting that Stephenson holds her own ties to the Blue Jays. A member of the coaching staff for the Jays affiliate Class-A Vancouver Canadians, the club earned the 2023 Northwest League Championship, allowing Stephenson another proud milestone. In a highly unique coincidence, Candaele served as a coach for the Canadians in 2019, enhancing the Hall of Fame linkage between Callaghan and Stephenson.

Worth noting, this is not the first Hall of Fame honor for the sensational Stephenson. Excelling as an impact player in the purple and gold of the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, the program’s halcyon days saw Stephenson part of four conference titles plus a National Championship. Inducted into the Golden Hawks Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011, the former All-Canadian enjoyed a national championship in 2004, as the Golden Hawks defeated Alberta.

Running parallel to the formidable years of on-ice glory at Laurier, Stephenson earned Baseball Canada Women’s Team MVP honors in 2005 and 2008. Wearing the Maple Leaf in eight IBAF World Cups, she gained six podium finishes, including a pair of silver medals. The prestige of Tournament All-Star Team honors in 2008 served as affirmation of Stephenson’s standing as a world-class talent.

The impact of Laurier hockey held another lasting linkage on the diamond. Although never teammates as Golden Hawks, Kate Psota’s baseball career ran parallel to Stephenson. Also, a member of the national team from 2004-18, Psota skated for the Golden Hawks from 2005-10, capturing a CIS bronze medal in 2010.

Fittingly, both Psota and Stephenson retired from the national team together in 2018. Their final game in the Canadian colors resulted in a bronze medal at the 2018 IBAF Women’s World Cup at the USSSA Space Coast Complex in Viera, Florida. As a side note, Psota gained induction into the Burlington Sports Hall of Fame in 2023.

Coincidentally, Stephenson’s talents on the frozen perimeter involved several other teammates with proud standing as two-sport stars. During her time with the Mississauga Chiefs, an exceptional quartet of talented athletes that graced the ice with Stephenson included Amber Bowman, Jennifer Botterill, Sami Jo Small and Sommer West.

From the outset, West, who also coached the Toronto Furies to the 2014 Clarkson Cup, played for Canada in women’s softball at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia. Before her heroics in hockey, Botterill was a star basketball player in the province on Manitoba, earning an invitation to try out for Canada’s national junior basketball team in 1996. Star goaltender Small, among a rare group to have won the Clarkson and Isobel Cups in a career, participated in track and field while at Stanford University. A multiple champion in World Firefighter Challenges, Bowman remains a celebrated figure in this competition.  

Prior to the successful transition to coaching, Stephenson remained an impact player in the twilight of her competitive endeavors. Highlighted by two cherished achievements, it signified a highly fitting send-off. The 2015 Pan American Games, hosted in Toronto, provided an important chapter in sporting equality as women’s baseball became a medal sport for the first time.

As the roster also consisted of the aforementioned Asay, Matteucci, Mills and Psota, there was significant women’s ice hockey content on the Canadian contingent. With the hosts qualifying for the gold medal game, it thrust the sport into the national conversation, propelling Stephenson and her teammates into heroine status.

Serendipitously, the legacy of the Pan Am Games remained impactful several years later. During the 2023 season, Stephenson, in her coaching capacity with the Vancouver Canadians, was reunited with another distinguished competitor from Pan Am. Ronnie Gajownik, a member of the gold medal winning United States roster in 2015, became a coach with the Hillsboro Hops, an affiliate of MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks. With the Hops and Canadians taking the field at Ron Torkin Field in May 2023, it represented the first professional baseball game with a female coach on each team. Fittingly, the lineup card was sent to the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, another feather in Stephenson’s cap.

As a player, the 2018 World Cup signified Stephenson’s swan song. Batting .455 with eight RBIs, the performance not only affirmed her legacy, it stood as testament to her consistency and durability in the Canadian colors. Such a memorable year provided Stephenson with another pair of milestones. In August, she earned election as the only Canadian member of the prestigious World Softball Baseball Confederation (WBSC) Athletes Commission. Additionally, Baseball Canada renamed the Jimmy Rattlesnake Award, in recognition of a national team player that demonstrates outstanding ability and sportsmanship, in her honour.

The constant display of dedication and leadership as a player remains integral to Stephenson’s new chapter as a coach. In 2022, she made history as the first woman to serve as field manager for the national team as Canada hosted the United States at the Friendship Series in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

As 2024 sees Stephenson juggling coaching duties with the Vancouver Canadians and the national team, the Hall of Fame induction is poised to open the door for future female stars to earn recognition. Undoubtedly, the complexion of the 2024 national team sees a new generation of players excel on the ice and the diamond, prolonging the shared legacy of Stephenson, Asay, Matteucci, Mills and Psota.

This exciting group features hockey heroines Kaitlyn Ross, a goaltender for the 2023 national champion Mount Royal Cougars, Madison Willan, a star forward for the Alberta Pandas, plus Emily Baxter, who served as captain for the TMU Bold, having also won the OUA’s version of the Marion Hillard Award. Looking to duplicate their heroics on the diamond, this group benefits from an incredible mentor in Stephenson, whose Hall of Fame legacy stands as a tremendous source of inspiration. 

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In this article: #All-Canadian, #All-Star, #Awards, #Championships, #multisportathlete, #UniversityHockey, #USports, #WomenInSport, #Womenshockey, grow the game, Hall Of Fame, Hockey

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