Wilmette, Sports

Regina softball alumna living out dream with Irish National Team

Summer Rocha and Team Ireland begin World Cup play in July

Regina Dominican High School graduate Summer Rocha always dreamed of playing for a softball national team. 

Making the U.S. National Team, she admitted, would be difficult, especially coming from the small programs that she has played in. 

But when an opportunity to play for the Irish National Team appeared in 2019, following her senior year at Regina, she jumped at the chance.

“My wife is Irish and I reached out to the organization and the president, Colum Lavery, called me back, came and interviewed her pitching coach and Summer and invited her out to a tryout,” said Charles Rocha, Summer Rocha’s father. “It’s an amazing feeling to have her playing for the team. It’s a complete family experience.” 

In order to qualify for the Irish National Team, players must have a parent or grandparent from Ireland and qualify for an Irish passport.

If you do not have an Irish passport, you can’t play for the team. 

Summer Rocha pitches and plays the field for the Ireland National Team

“My personal tryout was incorporated into their summer training camp,” she said. “Making a team, like this was always the goal, the dream, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to qualify for it because throughout my high school years, I was under the impression that since I was American,  I’d have to qualify through Team USA and that would have been a lot harder.

“When I got presented the opportunity to do this, it was really exciting for me. To be able to wear a national team jersey is really cool. You really feel a sense of pride for where you come from, your ancestry, relatives. Playing for them is really exhilarating and brings out the fierceness and competition in you.”

In the years since, other than when play was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Rocha has worked her way up from Ireland’s U-19 squad to the U-22 to now the Senior National Team.

Playing with the team isn’t just an annual occurrence. Whenever the team has major competitions, players are called to go through a training period before they participate in games.

The national team has gotten more action the past couple of summers because of tournament qualifiers and also because in 2023 the group stage of the Women’s Softball World Cup, an event from the World Baseball Softball Confederation.

You really feel a sense of pride for where you come from, your ancestry, relatives. Playing for them is really exhilarating and brings out the fierceness and competition in you.”
Summer Rocha about playing softball for the Ireland National Team

For the first time in the country’s history, Ireland will be hosting a Softball World Cup competition. This is the first year that the tournament will feature a two-stage format. Eighteen teams will be split into three groups before the top two teams from each group advance to the championship rounds, which will be hosted by Italy in 2024.

Ireland is in a group with the United States, Botswana, Chinese Taipei, Great Britain and Australia.

“It’s been unbelievable,” said Charles Rocha, who is also an assistant for the Irish team. “For myself and for everyone involved, it’s given everybody goosebumps. 

“Everyone is so excited. Brand new field, the team is going to be put up in a castle. It’s an amazing feeling to be part of something this big and to represent Ireland.”

“We’re a relatively new program and for us to be hosting is a big deal,” Summer said. “We’re actually building our first real stadium for the competition as well. We’re all excited for it to be happening, all a little bit nervous but this is going to help build out the program and awareness of the sport to the people of Ireland.”

With her parents, Heather and Charles, Summer Rocha is honored for her college commitment as a Regina senior in 2019.

After graduating from Regina, Rocha started her collegiate career at Morgan State University in the spring of 2020 but had her season cut to just 16 games because of the pandemic.

Rocha decided to transfer after her freshman year to a school closer to home, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana.

In her first year in a Pomeroy jersey, Rocha was honorable mention on the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association All-America team. The following season, the school joined the River States Conference and she earned First Team All-Conference honors.

She helped the team win conference championships in 2022 and 2023, qualifying them for the NAIA National Tournament.

While Rocha’s primarily a pitcher, she also hits and plays in the field for the Irish National Team. 

“For Team Ireland, I’m a utility player, so I’ll pitch, hit and play the field,” she said. “I do practice on my own to make sure I’m prepared hitting-wise and will still have people pitch to me outside of a game scenario when I’m at school to make sure I’m ready.”

The time off between hitting didn’t seem to have an effect on her, as she hit .389 at last summer’s U-22 European Championships, third best of the regulars on the squad.

Rocha and her Irish teammates, many of whom are also from the United States, start their quest for a title July 11 when they face Botswana.

For more information on the team and to follow them throughout the tournament, visit the Irish National Team’s website. fastpitchsoftball.ie.

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Michael Wojtychiw

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