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Olympic Wait Almost Over For Michelle Moultrie, Valerie Arioto

(Photo courtesy of USA Softball)

As the old saying goes, good things come to those who wait. For USA Softball veterans Michelle Moultrie and Valerie Arioto, that saying turned out to be true when they were named to the 2020 United States Olympic softball team earlier this month.

After nine summers spent with Team USA, many of which occurred during a bleak period when softball was out of the Olympic program after the Beijing Games in 2008, Moultrie and Arioto have remained devoted to USA Softball and the sport they both love so much.

"We’ve always had a great time and I think we’ve always loved playing at this level," Moultrie, 29, told reporters during a press conference with the U.S. Olympic softball team earlier this month. "Even if we didn't have the media following (that we have during an Olympic year), I think we just have a love of the game that always kept us going."

The 30-year-old Arioto, who graduated from the University of California - Berkeley in 2012 and, like Moultrie, has been a member of Team USA since 2011, reflected similarly.

"It was obviously a sad era when softball wasn’t in the Olympics," Arioto told reporters. "But it says something about the (USA Softball) program and the softball community that we continued to go and play for the USA."

For Moultrie, who graduated from the University of Florida in 2012, becoming an Olympian at next summer's Tokyo Games will be even sweeter after having lived through some difficult times with USA Softball. Back when softball did not have the financial support of the United States Olympic Committee, money was especially tight for Team USA and its players.

"It definitely makes it a really cool experience," Moultrie said about making the 2020 U.S. Olympic softball squad after enduring a difficult era with USA Softball. "Seeing my name on the roster wasn’t just a single moment. It was a build-up of years of playing, years of different people coming and going. (I thought) back to years when we didn’t have any financial support and we had to do everything we could to stay on the team."

Arioto shares Moultrie's sentiments. She is also particularly proud of the fact that she and Moultrie aided in USA Softball's efforts to get their sport into the 2020 Olympic program.

"We were part of the era that helped get softball back into the Olympics," Arioto added. "I think that’s really big and shows what we are here for, and that’s to inspire the youth and to keep the sport growing."

And Arioto hasn't just been an ambassador for the sport at the international level for nearly a decade. She's also been the type of leader for her teammates that Team USA head coach Ken Eriksen believes to be invaluable.

"Since 2011, she's meant everything (to the USA Softball program)," Eriksen told Softball America back in July. "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."

For Arioto and Moultrie, some of the most important lessons they have learned during their respective playing careers with USA Softball have been about the pride they have in their country and the love they have for their sport.

"We continued to play not knowing if we were ever going to be in the Olympics, but we just had pride in what we did," Arioto said. "To wear 'USA' across our chests is a big deal to us."

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