For USA Softball, Joy Abounds After Olympic Roster Reveal
OKLAHOMA CITY – After almost 12 years without a United States Olympic softball team, the wait finally came to an end on Sunday when the 2020 squad was revealed. The excitement among America's newest Olympians, who will represent the U.S. at next summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo, was palpable on Tuesday when the team was officially announced at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
"You’ve got the best 18 people that play softball at a very, very high level," Team USA head coach Ken Eriksen told reporters Tuesday. "We’re so excited that we get to spend the next nine and a half months preparing for the 2020 Olympics. It’s been a long time since both baseball and softball have been in the Olympics and what this program has done since 2011, all the players that kept it alive and the dreams of a lot of these young women right now, can’t go unrecognized."
Among those players who kept the USA Softball program afloat in the 11 summers since softball's last appearance in the Olympics—which was at the Beijing Games in 2008, when the U.S. lost to Japan in the gold-medal game—are Valerie Arioto and Michelle Moultrie. Both Moultrie and Arioto, who delivered an opening statement for the Olympic team on Tuesday, have been with Team USA since 2011.
"I don’t think it has fully set in for all of us yet, but we’re really excited that we got to experience these first moments together as a team and go forth this way," Arioto, who graduated from Cal in 2012, told reporters Tuesday. "We’re really excited to start our journey and we’re really grateful and honored to represent the United States of America at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics."
Joining Moultrie and Arioto on the experienced end of the spectrum for Team USA is Amanda Chidester, who spent every summer with the national team but this past one since her college graduation from Michigan in 2012. Chidester was left off of Team USA's roster after the 2019 Selection Trials in January, but went on to become the National Pro Fastpitch Most Valuable Player this past summer as a member of the Chicago Bandits before once again earning a spot on Team USA after last week's Olympic Selection Trials.
The most experienced players on the field for the American squad next summer, however, will be past Olympians Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott. The 36-year-old Osterman, who earned a gold medal with Team USA in 2004, also collected a silver in 2008 with Abbott as her teammate.
Osterman came out of retirement earlier this year to make an attempt at rejoining the national team, while Abbott has continued to play professionally both overseas in Japan and stateside in the U.S. since 2008. Both players were emotional Tuesday when discussing softball's 12-year absence from the Olympics, as well as the significance of the moment for them.
"My heart was broken," Abbott, 34, told reporters about the decision to remove softball from the Olympic program. "I thought there was a lost generation of softball players who wouldn’t get to compete on the highest stage."
But that heartache was replaced with feelings of joy when it was announced three years ago that softball would return for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
"For a lot of us, that dream was taken away in 2008," first-time Olympian Haylie McCleney told Softball America on Monday. "A lot of us were in that in-between age. I was in eighth grade and was just starting to get recruited to play college ball and I thought that was it. I thought I’d have a college career and get a real-world job and move on after that. But once it got back (in the Olympic program), the dream woke back up."
McCleney, a 2016 graduate of Alabama, was not the only softball player who felt that way. Ally Carda, who graduated from UCLA in 2015, kept playing in both the USA Softball program and NPF to keep her Olympic dream alive.
"I went through a lot to be here," Carda told Softball America on Monday. "Yes, I’ve been on the (national) team for a few years now, but the last couple of years I didn’t make the "A" team, so this is even more exciting. I’m just really proud of myself for how far I’ve come as an athlete and, more importantly, a person to get to this point."
In addition to the aforementioned athletes, the remaining players on the 2020 U.S. Olympic softball team include Ali Aguilar, Aubree Munro, Janie Reed, Delaney Spaulding and Kelsey Stewart, as well as current college players Rachel Garcia, Dejah Mulipola and Bubba Nickles, who will finish their fall academic semesters but miss their senior seasons to train with Team USA. The three Olympic alternates include Taylor Edwards, Hannah Flippen and Keilani Ricketts.
While the complete training schedule for Team USA is still being determined, USA Softball has announced its "Stand Beside Her" tour, which will take place in the spring and include several exhibition games against college programs in preparation for July's Olympics. The first two tour stops have been revealed, and will take place Feb. 7-9 in Florida and Feb. 20-23 in California.
In the meantime, Eriksen is urging American softball fans to get behind their team, especially leading up to the sport's long-awaited return to the Olympic stage.
"It's time to get behind these 18 representatives of USA Softball," Eriksen said. "I hope they are all your favorite players moving forward. They earned the right to wear 'USA.' They will represent all of us with a tremendous amount of pride and professionalism."