Osterman Embraces 'Mama Bear' Role With U.S. Olympic Team
OKLAHOMA CITY – Cat Osterman remembers what it was like to be the youngest player on a United States Olympic softball team. Back in 2004, the left-handed pitcher was 21 years old and the lone college player on a Team USA squad that went on to win a gold medal at the Athens Games. That summer, Osterman collected two wins and a save with a team-leading 23 strikeouts in her first Olympic stint.
Now a three-time Olympian, Osterman also remembers the guidance she received in 2004 from some of her older teammates, and particularly fellow pitcher Lori Harrigan, which she believes helped her blossom in the circle that summer. Harrigan, now Harrigan-Mack, captured three gold medals with Team USA during her Olympic tenure and was one of the most experienced players on the U.S. national team in 2004, just like Osterman is today.
“Lori took me under her wing and made sure I knew the way,” Osterman, who came out of retirement earlier this year in an attempt to earn a spot on the 2020 Olympic team, told Softball America.
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The last 48 hours were the most emotional, rewarding, exhausting moments. This group is special, and my heart is so full as we go our own ways for a bit. To say this journey will be exciting is an understatement. I really can’t wait to write this chapter of USA Softball with these 17 women. #18strong #tokyo2020 #LFG #journeytotokyo
Perhaps that’s why Osterman, now 36, is so serious about taking under her wing the three college players who will compete for Team USA at next summer’s Tokyo Games. UCLA’s Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles, who both helped the Bruins win a national championship in June, as well as the University of Arizona’s Dejah Mulipola, will all have one year of college softball eligibility remaining after they return home from the Tokyo Olympics, pending the NCAA’s decision to grant each of them a redshirt for the 2020 season.
“I told them that from here on out, I would make sure they were taken care of,” said Osterman, who met with Team USA’s three college players on Sunday after the 2020 Olympic team was revealed.
And her impact is already being felt.
“She’s definitely given me, Dejah and Rachel some great advice about being a college athlete, as well as an Olympic athlete,” the 21-year-old Nickles told Softball America. “She said that it was definitely a different experience and she was grateful that she had someone on the team that guided her, so she’s definitely been guiding us already in these past few days.”
Osterman, who has a stepdaughter, knows exactly what is ahead of her younger teammates. After completing her sophomore season at the University of Texas, she redshirted during the 2004 college campaign in order to prepare for the Olympics with Team USA. She returned to Texas after collecting her gold medal, where she pitched for the Longhorns for two more years before graduating in 2006.
“Being able to talk to Cat and listen to her story when she was in college really helps me, Dejah and Bubba be able to think about how this year is going to be,” the 22-year-old Garcia, who is the two-time reigning USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year, told Softball America. “She is a big support system we can go to when we need it.”
Garcia, Nickles and Mulipola will likely follow the same path that Osterman took in 2004. Team USA head coach Ken Eriksen clarified on Tuesday in the 2020 squad’s introductory press conference that all three college players will finish out their fall classes this semester and then sit out the coming college season as they prepare for the Olympics.
“It doesn’t bode well for our preparation for July for them to be with their college teams,” Eriksen told reporters. “They’re part of our 18 (players on the Olympic team), and our 18 will be touring, so it will be a little difficult to do both.”
And though Team USA’s three youngsters don’t fully know what to expect ahead of their experience on the 2020 Olympic team, they can find comfort in the fact that they will have their “Mama Bear” there to help guide them throughout the journey and show them the way.
“She’s my and Bubba’s mom right now, that’s how she refers to herself with us,” Mulipola, 21, told Softball America. “She takes care of us and looks out for us and shares her experiences. It’s comforting for us because we know someone else went through it who is on our team and that she’ll help us through it.”