New Zealand will open their bid to regain the world softball title against Mexico on March 1 at Rosedale Park, Auckland.
After losing their crown to Australian four years ago, the Black Sox will have home advantage for the ISF World Softball Championship, but face a tough draw that pits them against four-time champions Canada in pool play, along with Japan, Argentina, Philippines, Mexico, Colombia and the Netherlands.
"It's a very, very demanding draw," says Black Sox coach Eddie Kohlhase. "Canada, Japan and Argentina are three of the big powers in world softball.
"It's a tough draw, not just in terms of qualifying for the quarterfinals, but also building up some powerful momentum going forward. It will be a real test for us."
Canada have been New Zealand's traditional rivals at the tournament. Like the Kiwis, they have taken the crown four times, last winning in 1992, when they beat the Black Sox in the final.
But they also lost to the Kiwis at the final stages in 1996 and
"They're always a very tough team to play," says Kohlhase. "They have powerful pitching - they throw the ball very hard - and like most Canadian sports teams, they try to dominate you physically."
Japan was the other team New Zealand had to overcome on the way to their 1996-2004 championship "three-peat". They beat the crafty Asians 2-1 in the 2000 title game at East London, South Africa.
"Their current coach was the pitcher in that final," says Kohlhase. "They're a very fast team - Japan are beautiful fielders of the ball and quite electric on the base paths.
"They have a lot of lefties, and have very strong pitching and hitting - they'll be a real test."
Argentina are one of the emerging powers in world softball and took out the junior world title at home last year.
"They're like their rugby teams and soccer teams," observes Kohlhase. "They're fantastic at home and if they can just get their game together abroad &
"Argentina are a strong softballing nation. They have a couple of outstanding pitchers on the North American circuit and like Japan, have a lot of lefties."
Elsewhere in the pool, the Philippines and Netherlands have considerable experience to draw upon at this level, and can be counted on to make the top sides work for their wins, says Kohlhase.
Sixteen teams have been divided into two pools of eight for the championship, with the top four progressing to quarterfinals. The other pool is headed by titleholders Australia and four-time champions the United States.
As hosts, the Black Sox have been allocated the prime time slots each day - 7.30pm during the week and 2.30pm on weekend, from March 1-10.
Black Sox at ISF World Championships
Rosedale Park, Auckland
Pool A - Australia, United States, Venezuela, Great Britain,
Czech Republic, South Africa, Indonesia, Samoa
Pool B - New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Argentina, Philippines, Mexico, Colombia, Netherlands
Friday, March 1
7.30pm NZ v Mexico
Saturday, March 2
2.30pm NZ v Colombia
Sunday, March 3
2.30pm NZ v Japan
Monday, March 4
7.30pm NZ v Canada
Tuesday, March 5
7.30pm NZ v Argentina
Wednesday, March 6
7.30pm NZ v Netherlands
Thursday, March 7
7.30pm NZ v Philippines
Friday, March 8
Saturday, March 9
Sunday, March 10