D1 Women’s Softball: It’s Go-Time For The Grenoble Grizzlys

16-year-old Capucine Meiss will make her D1 debut

MEYLAN – It’s with one eye on his players and the other on the sky that Vincent Costes leads the Grizzlys softball team through a series of warm-up drills in Parc de L’île d’Amour, in Meylan, just east of Grenoble.

It’s a damp, cool Sunday in mid-March, and the low-hanging clouds that have been threatening rain all morning partially obscure the snow-capped mountains that rise up the distance on all sides.

But with the exception of a few drops here and there, the showers hold off, allowing the Grizzlys to go ahead with their double-header against the visiting Zurich Challengers, the reigning top-division champions from across the Alps, in Switzerland.

Spring is just around the corner, and despite the chill in the air, “it feels good” just to be out on the field, says Costes, aka Popy Grizzlys, who has managed the team for the past five years.

Coach Vincent Costes has been with the team five years

All the more so given the problems caused the past two years by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the FFBS, the sport’s governing body in France, to cancel the 2020 season outright and delay the start of the 2021 competition.

“It feels good because yeah, last year was a shortened season,” Costes explains. “It was difficult to manage for the team as a whole, especially in terms of bringing on players from outside the area. But it feels like we’re off to a good start in this case.”

Ready to roll

The atmosphere in Parc de L’île d’Amour is friendly, which befits the occasion: These are exhibition games – “friendlies” – to give the teams a taste of live competition before the start of their respective seasons.

Still, knowing that this is a last chance to hone their skills before games that do count, the players on both sides are in it to win it.

The Grizzlys scored in bunches against the Zurich Challengers

For the Grizzlys, the REAL games begin sooner rather than later. Opening Day for France’s highest-level (D1) women’s softball competition is this coming Sunday, March 20, when all eight of the league’s team (up from five the season before) take the field.

The reigning champion Saint-Raphaël Comanches, who have dominated the D1 for more than a decade, will open their season at home against Nice Cavigal, one of the league’s three newcomer teams. The Grizzlys also play their openers at home, in their case against the Rabbits of Clapiers-Jacou.

It’s game on, in other words, and the team in Grenoble – despite finishing fourth out of five teams in 2021, with a record of 2-6 – are feeling optimistic about their chances to make a splash this year.

Thinking big

The upcoming D1 season will be played in two phases, Costes explains. In the first portion of the season, beginning now and until mid July, all eight of the participating teams will have a chance to play each other.

Virginie André is one of several new recruits

From there they’ll be ranked, based on their records, and the top four teams will go on, starting in September, to compete for the league title. The bottom four teams will enter a playdown phase. Of those, the two last-place finishers will be dropped next season from the D1.

Grenoble’s goal, Popy Grizzlys explains, is to finish in the top four and make a real run at the title. “We’d at least like to finish the season on the podium [to be a top-three finisher],” he adds. “And then there’s the Challenge de France, in Saint-Raphaël, in early June, and the goal is the same. It’s a three-day tournament and there too we want to earn a spot on the podium.”

Today’s friendlies against the Challengers give them an extra confidence boost. They lead the first game throughout, winning 13-7. The afternoon match is a bit more of a struggle, and late in the game the visitors put together a rally that leaves Grenoble’s defense a bit rattled. But in the end the Grizzlys win that contest too: 15-10.

Fast and furious

Grizzlys are excited in particular about the arrival of several new faces, including 16-year-old Capucine Meiss, who will get her first crack at D1 softball after rising through the ranks in Grenoble.

Elia Kouachi led the team in hitting last year with a .348 average

Other newcomers include sisters Angélique and Virginie André, who both spent time earlier in their careers with the perennial champion Comanches, and Manon Mari, herself a former Saint-Raphaël player.

They’re joining an experienced corp of players led by Elia Kouachi, who batted .348 for the Grizzlys last season, Salomé Sergeant (.294) and Alina Kahlo (.263).

“We’ve got a good group this year,” coach Costes insists. “We’ve got new recruits who really bring something to the game, who will have a real impact. And that includes bringing on a catcher, which is something we were missing last year.”

Sunday’s victories are a confidence boost for Grenoble

Don’t overlook the Grizzlys, in other words. And don’t sleep on women’s D1 softball in general!

“It’s a really fast sport,” Costes points out. “There’s so much going on, and it’s really dynamic compared to baseball, which is much slower. Baseball is more of a power game. Softball is less about power, but for that reason there’s more strategy.”

It’s worth paying attention to,” he adds. “Women’s sports are great, and they’ve got a real place in France.”

–By Benjamin Witte (photos and text)

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