For USA Softball, Valerie Arioto Has Set The Gold Standard
Valerie Arioto always knew there was no guarantee that softball would return to the Olympics. She was keenly aware that her time with the U.S. women's national softball team might never grant her the coveted title of Olympian. But that didn't stop the slugger from committing each of the last nine summers of her life to USA Softball.
Since 2011, Arioto and fellow national-team veteran Michelle Moultrie have trusted in the process that USA Softball has set before them. They have played for the glory of international softball's most storied program, even without the promise of having their Olympic dreams fulfilled. But now that softball will be back in the Olympic program next summer for the first time since 2008, they are both just one roster announcement away from having their dreams become reality.
"It's really exciting," Arioto told Softball America. "Michelle Moultrie and I have been on the team for the longest stretch. We've gone through a cool and sad period of not being in the Olympics, and seeing the ups and downs of that and fighting back and continuing to keep USA Softball excellent. Finally, we have the opportunity to hopefully make the team for 2020."
At 30 years old, Arioto is currently playing some of the best softball of her life. The former All-American's skills were on full display at last week's USA Softball International Cup, which the U.S. squad won after defeating Japan in come-from-behind fashion in the tournament's title game. Arioto, a 2012 graduate of the University of California-Berkeley, led Team USA with five home runs and 10 RBI in 10 games at the week-long International Cup.
"She's got a pro approach at the plate," U.S. women's national team head coach Ken Eriksen told Softball America. "She keeps it simple and just tries to get the barrel to the ball. When you have her type of confidence, it's really easy to play the game."
Aside from Arioto's oftentimes otherworldly abilities at the plate, her reputation within and beyond the USA Softball program is top notch.
"Since 2011, she's meant everything (to this program)," Eriksen added. "If anybody bleeds red, white and blue and plays the game for the letters on the chest and not the name on the back, it's Valerie Arioto. A lot of ballplayers can learn a lot from her."
Though her decorated journey with USA Softball has included multiple gold medals at various international events, Arioto has still had to hustle to make a living in softball, just like most of her contemporaries in the sport. She has sacrificed training time and worked multiple jobs during her tenure with the U.S. national team, including serving as the Director of Tournaments & Operations for the University of South Florida softball team, in order to make a living.
"When we're not in the Olympics, we don't get the funding that we do (during Olympic years), so all of us have had to have second and third jobs to make it work," Arioto stated. "Hopefully I can continue to stick it out (with USA Softball) and see what happens, but I'm just doing what I love to do."
For now, Arioto is embracing her leadership role on a team that possesses both young and veteran players ahead of USA Softball's final Olympic roster announcement in October. With her, Moultrie and Olympians Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman currently leading the way for Team USA, the American squad is seemingly set up for great successes to come.
"I respect what (the younger players) do. Obviously, they are really, really good," Arioto added. "They kind of turn to me in a sense because I'm loud and I always have an opinion, so they know that I will say something if they don't."
But what Arioto humbly chose to omit is that the younger players on her team also turn to her because she has set a standard of greatness for USA Softball over the past decade.
"We've done some really good things as a team and I've really enjoyed my journey," Arioto said. "Although I obviously want to play in the Olympics and there is no other dream for me right now, I've always just played the game I love to play and I've gotten to wear USA across my chest. What is better than that?"