In what has proven to be a memorable chapter in Canadian sporting history, one of the great legacies of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games was the opportunity for many Canadian-born female athletes to shine in the spotlight. From Emily Batty to Kia Nurse to Sarah Wells, there was no shortage of heroes and role models for young Canadian girls to look up to.
Among such empowering women that participated at the Pan Am Games, some of the most unique were breaking barriers in a traditionally male-dominated sport. As women’s baseball was being contested in a major multi-national sporting event for the first time, it was a chance for fans to catch up to many of the stars that grace the diamond for host country Canada.
One of those stars enjoyed a coming-out party at these Pan Am Games, establishing herself as one to watch for many exciting seasons to come. Second baseman Nicole Luchanski was a model of consistency with the Canadian team.
Not only did she log Canada’s first base hit in the history of women’s baseball at the Pan Am Games, she also hit safely in each of Canada’s six contests. In Canada’s first game, a 13-1 whitewash of Cuba, Luchanski went 2 for 4, with one RBI and two runs scored. Such a performance would set the tone for the remainder of Luchanski’s experience at the Pan Am Games.
Taking into account that prior to the 2014 IBAF Women’s World Cup, Luchanski and her teammates had the opportunity to receive training from Baseball Hall of Famer (and Toronto Blue Jays legend) Roberto Alomar, it was a special milestone in Luchanski’s career. As both players compete at the second base position, her remarkable play at the Pan Am Games certainly made Canadian baseball fans reminiscent of Alomar’s heroics, capturing their hearts and minds as Alomar did a generation ago.
Along with Bradi Wall at shortstop, the two were also a formidable duo in the field. Having played together on the Alberta team that captured the gold medal at the 2014 Canadian Senior Women’s Invitational, their on-field chemistry was evident.
Game two of the preliminary round of play saw that number exemplify Luchanski’s efforts. In a 9-3 win against Venezuela, she logged two walks and two runs, complementing her offensive output with two hits and two RBI’s. Getting a pair of hits against Puerto Rico in the third game, a tightly contested 3-2 victory, Luchanski was establishing herself as the heartbeat of the offensive attack for Canada.
Registering Canada’s only RBI in a 3-1 preliminary round loss to their visceral rivals, the United States, Luchanski put together a solid two-hit performance showing no fear. It was a performance that she would duplicate again as their paths crossed in the gold medal game.
Although the United States climbed out to an early 4-0 lead, Luchanski tried valiantly to set a positive example. Getting two hits against a tough US pitching staff composed of Sarah Hudek and Stacy Piagno, Luchanski also scored a run. While Rebecca Hartley and Jenna Flannigan were the only other Canadians who managed to get two hits in a highly emotional gold medal game, there was no sense of loss. Instead, it exemplified a remarkable week in which women participated in a sporting milestone that was long overdue.
Statistically, the Pan Am Games represented the performance of a lifetime for Luchanski. Leading all competitors in women’s baseball at the Pan Am Games with 22 at-bats, her sterling .500 batting average ranked second only to Malaika Underwood of the United States, who led the field with a .600 mark. As a side note, she only trailed Underwood in slugging percentage, as her .667 was 15 points lower than Underwood’s tournament best .682.
Tying US catcher Anna Kimbrell for second overall with seven runs batted in, infield partner Bradi Wall ranked third with six. Defensively, Luchanski’s fielding percentage of .946 was only .001 off the overall leader, Lelis Gomez of the bronze-medal winning Venezuelan squad. In addition, her 19 putouts and 16 assists were by far the best of any competitor at the Games.
Leading Canada in so many statistical categories, Luchanski provided an MVP performance. Her six runs topped all Canadians, followed closely by former CWHL player and two-time national women’s hockey champion Ashley Stephenson, who scored five. She followed it up by also leading the Canadian contingent with 11 hits, four doubles, and a .577 on-base percentage.
As Canada looks ahead to a limitless future for women’s baseball, consisting of the 2016 and 2018 IBAF World Cup, along with an opportunity for golden redemption at the 2019 Pan Am Games, Luchanski established herself as a remarkable Canadian female sporting hero. Sacrificing her promising career in forestry for the chance to make history, the result was the admiration and respect of Canadian sports fans, acknowledging that women deserved their respectful place on the diamond.