WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — It's been such a busy summer for Joey Lye '09, that it's hard to keep up with what uniform she should be wearing on what day.
What hasn't been confusing for the 10-year veteran of Team Canada's softball team is her play. Lye has been on fire on the diamond, helping Team Canada win the Canada Cup, contributing to the success of the Canadian Wild in its intiial foray into the six-team National Pro Fastpitch League, and no doubt planning what's next for her Bucknell University softball team.
It can be a dizzying experience. But rather than compartmentalize, Lye embraces the craziness of her schedule to benefit.
"I blend my coaching and playing lives and allow each to benefit the other," she said. "I utilize both mentalities while planning practices and meeting with/relating to my players, as well as in thinking through and planning my own training schedule and practice sessions."
Lye recently turned 32, and after 10 years traveling the world as a member of Team Canada, can see the end of the tunnel for her playing days. She is optimistic it will be at the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan. But if the Canadian team does not qualify for that tournament at the end of August when the WBSC World Championships are held in Surrey, British Columbia, she knows it may come sooner than that.
"My plan is to retire after the Olympics next year, if all goes well," she said. "I don't like thinking that there is an alternative, but acknowledge that one does exist. If we should not qualify for Tokyo, that might be it for me. It's possible that I might play next year's season with the Canadian Wild regardless but my wife would likely have something to say about that with the Olympics out of the picture.
"It's been pretty easy for me to stay motivated to play for the past 10 years - it's such an honor to wear the maple leaf," Lye continued. "The team culture has steadily improved over that time as has our skill level and depth of talent - which all lead to increased enjoyment. I love my team and it's tough to even imagine what life will be like without cleats on my feet and my friends by my side!"
For those not completely familiar with the Lye story, a quick refresher. As a freshman, she started for the second Eph team to qualify for the NCAA National Championships. She led the team in batting her sophomore, junior and senior years. She hit .504 as a junior and then led the nation as a senior with a .563 average. To this day she remains the Ephs all-time hits leader with 211 and holds the mark for the highest career batting average at .457. She was a two-time All American while at Williams.
Still, she was the final cut of Team Canada the summer after graduating in 2009. She came back to the Purple Valley to coach ice hockey and softball, and when she wasn't working, she was training and many afternoons back on Cole Field to make herself prepared for another shot at making the Team Canada roster. Long story short, her work ethic paid off and she was named to the squad in 2010.
"Hard work has always run through my veins," Lye said. "In 2009-10 when I was training to take another crack at the Team Canada roster after being cut in '09 my focus was fully on making necessary improvements to claw my way into the roster; expectations beyond that didn't yet exist. Now, in my 10th year on the team, I wouldn't say my work ethic has changed at all but has simply matured to be more refined/focused and the content of our training as a whole is next level."
Fast forward 10 years and Lye is one of the team leaders of the Canadian national team. She once served as captain of the squad. Though she's never played in the Olympics — softball was dropped from Olympic schedule after the 2008 Games — she has helped her home country to several podium appearances. At the 2015, Team Canada earned a gold medal. In 2011 a silver. At the WBSC World Championships, three times Lye has been a member of a bronze medal Canadian squad (2010, 2016, 2018).
Lye will play in her third Pan American Games beginning Sunday in Lima, Peru. Team Canada will open the tournament against Puerto Rico at 10:00am local time (11:00am EDT) on Sunday, August 4. She has played with and against the best softball players in the world for 10 straight years. On Tuesday, while preparing for the Pan Am games Lye learned she had made the roster for WBSC World Championships that will be held Aug. 25th through Sept. 1.
"Believing I am the best has become a daily ritual of mine, while also balancing the knowledge that there are always improvements to be made," she said. "Focused intentional practices chasing 1 percent gains of improvement lead to confidence and trust in your instincts during competition. I think it's important, no matter what you're doing, to take a step back and reflect. Not only does this provide opportunities for growth but it also provides substance for improved confidence and space to take a breath. Finding a balance of one's mindset is most definitely a key to success."
Lye spent this summer playing with the Canadian Wild in the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) League. The team is based out of Marion, Illinois but is entirely made up of players from the Canadian National Team. Lye hit .304, helping the Canadian Wild to a third-place finish in the six-team league. The day in and day out competition at the level of the league has helped her teammates -- and herself -- approach another level of play, Lye said.
"The league challenges me and my teammates everyday," she noted. "It challenges our skills, our mindset, our fitness, and our emotional tanks. This league is a grind and it is SO good for us. We are lucky to have such an amazing group of athletes and staff who support and push each other everyday. If I wasn't surrounded by people I love and trust I imagine this being quite a different experience; I feel very fortunate."
In May, she completed her second season as head coach at Bucknell University -- she led the Bison to a 14-3 record in Patriot League play in 2019 and the Toronto native has remained an active player with the Canadian National Team. In her first season at Bucknell Lye led the Bison to a second-place finish in the regular season and a return to the Patriot League Tournament after a one-year hiatus. Before moving to Bucknell, Lye coached one year at Lebanon Valley. Prior to taking over at Lebanon Valley, she coached five seasons at Stevenson University
Coaching softball at a Division I institution might be enough for some people. Or training and competing internationally at the highest level of one sport could be challenging enough. Lye credits her surrounding support of family, friends and staff with allowing her to accomplish both.
"The people in my life are hands down the main reason I am fortunate enough to both play and coach at such high levels," she noted. "The administration at Bucknell empowers me to chase my Olympic dream and my colleagues support me every step of the way, it's such a supportive environment. My staff does everything they can to carry the extra load when I'm gone and to help me train while I'm in town. My wife is my biggest supporter despite the number of days I spend out of town and the hours I spend training when I'm home. My players provide amazing motivation for me; I want to be the best example I can be for them, which means I better be giving my best effort every single rep. Opponents on the road open their facilities to me, people I've never met open the door to their gym, acquaintances chip in with a piece of equipment or gear - I just can't say enough about all of the support and empowerment I get from those around me! The term "it takes a village" has really spoken to me these past couple of years and I appreciate each and every person and moment along the way."
While Lye has an appreciation of the Pan American Games she is looking forward to the WBSC World Championships which double as the Olympic Qualifier -- there will be 12 teams competing for just two Olympic spots -- she knows this week is one final opportunity for the 15 members of Team Canada to raise their game, prepare, learn and execute before laying it all on the line at the end of the month in Surrey.
"The excitement around them (for me) is lessened due to the Olympic Qualifier being the bigger deal for our team this summer, if that makes sense, but I am still very much excited to be a part this team and to represent Canada," she noted. "The Pan Am games being a multi-event games, is such a cool experience - it's an opportunity to meet other Canadian athletes, learn about other sports, and FEEL the energy from our nation in our home away from home for the games (Canada does a great job of creating a community there in the village with a Canadian athlete lounge, treatment area, coaches lounge, etc)."