A WA STAR ON THE RISE
WA Flames dynamo Sara Riou brings a fresh outlook to her teams 2020 Open Women’s National Championship campaign at Mirrabooka Stadium in Perth from January 4-10.
The 20-year-old has returned from a rewarding but tough stint in the Netherlands’ Golden league where she stepped out for the Oosterhout Twins.
Expectations did not quite meet reality – and Riou’s game is all the better for it.
From March to October 2019, Riou pedalled her bicycle to and from her humble apartment twice a week for training and for the two home-games on Saturdays. She also rode to work each day at a warehouse which assembled and exported trophies.
Establishing a new life on the other side of the world was an eye-opening experience.
“I was working with some Polish people. The money they earned at this job was like five times as much as what they’d get back home,” she said.
“We would assemble the trophies, box them up and load them into a container and they would be sent all over the world. The language barrier was also a little bit challenging but I enjoyed learning the language and got okay at it. I was surprised at how good most people were at English.
“Going away, I was completely thrown out of my comfort zone and had to adapt quickly. But I was surprised because I thought I adapted quite well. Within the first week of getting there I had to set up bank accounts, work out meals, how to get to work, WIFI and all these other things you don’t normally have to think about.”
“I had to start a new life, but it was really exciting. That was my favourite part of the whole trip. I had to mature a lot.”
The intensity of the Golden League and mixing with other internationals was also an eye-opening experience. “I was expecting the competition to be good, but it was actually next level,” she said.
“Everyone was very intense. The coaches were great but very serious and the game was played at a very fast pace. The pitching was great and there were lots of international players in the competition. There were girls in my team travelling two hours to get to training, so they took it very seriously. It was very intense.”
The overall experience means Riou has a new perspective on life and softball which has served to enhance her professionalism. “I’m definitely thinking about the game in a different way now,” she said.
“The Golden League was played at such a high level each week. I wasn’t used to playing at such a high level for such a long period of time, but I think I adapted well to the pace and the intensity of the games.”
“The softball was great, but the challenges of living there helped me to be organised.”
It all adds up to perfect preparation for the upcoming National Championships.
“When I played in the Championships last year I think I had a good preparation but this year – coming from the Netherlands and playing against International-level players for a six-month period constantly and with high-level training – I don’t think I could have prepared any better,” she said.
“Normally, that is my off-season for six months. It has turned out to be a really good decision and I’m really happy that I went.”
Riou’s new outlook also extends to giving back to the game she loves.
“I coach teeball two or three times a week down at my old junior club where I played when I was five or six, the Carine Cats, which is fun,” she said. “Now I’m coaching the kids who are five or six.
“I really enjoy coaching that age group. It’s a real challenge because you have to keep them engaged and moving and keep it fun. But again, it helps me with my own softball because it reminds me of the basics and keeps me thinking about it.
“I also help with the Under 14s and 16s WA State Softball teams.”
Meanwhile, like so many of the players in the upcoming National Championships, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics looms large on the radar for Riou.
“I’m definitely looking to crack the Australian Open Women’s team,” she said.
“If I could do that this year and get into the Olympics that would be great.”
Either way, more international experience awaits Riou in 2020, unless she stays home next winter and returns to her other great sporting love – AFL.
She has played in the WAFL Women’s competition for Claremont and is excited for the variety of professional sporting pathways opening up for women. “If I decide to stay home, I’ll look to go back to AFL, hopefully with Claremont again,” she said.
“There are so many options now in women’s sport. Every single sport is just taking off, which is really great to see.”
* The 2020 Open Women’s National Championship will be decided at Mirrabooka Stadium in Perth from January 4-10.