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Osterman Hopes To Help Team USA Usher In New Era In 2020

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Women’s softball last appeared in the 2008 Olympics, when Dejah Mulipola was 10 years old. She doesn’t remember it, or Team USA’s agonizing loss to Japan in the gold medal game. She does remember seeing Team USA touring and going to see them play but not much more.

After a 12-year absence, softball will make its Olympic return in the summer of 2020 and Mulipola has a chance to be a part of that team. When the United States Women’s National Team (WNT) roster was announced for the 2019 season, the University of Arizona catcher found herself the youngest inclusion to the 18-member squad, 15 of whom will make the Olympic roster headed to Japan.

“The team was announced at 7 a.m. (Mountain Standard Time) and I didn’t get to open the email (telling her she’d made the team) because of the texts already coming in congratulating me. I just wanted to tell my dad and family.”

Mulipola grew up in an athletic household, where her father, Ed, was a football player and her was mom a softball player. Her sisters play softball, too.

“My dad raised me as a great softball player,” she said.

Now, the former OC Batbusters product finds herself coached by women who were posters on her bedroom wall in Natasha Watley and Tairia Flowers. And playing alongside women she idolized like Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman.

Osterman remembers the 2008 Olympics. As the youngest member of the 2004 gold medal-winning Team USA squad, she was a “bright-eyed, bushy-tailed” young pitcher whose teammates took her under their wings as they won a gold medal.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “A huge learning experience.”

After the 2004 Olympics the southpaw hurler returned for 2008 after finishing an outstanding college career that included becoming the only three-time winner of the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award. Osterman was handed the ball for the gold medal game and pitched five innings, giving up two runs on three hits and taking the loss as Team USA claimed silver. It was the first time in her Olympic career she had given up a run or lost a game.

Now, the associate head coach at Texas State University, Osterman came out of retirement to make the national team at 35. Along with 2008 teammate Abbott, she finds herself with a chance at redemption as the oldest player named to the roster.

“It’s exciting to play with the younger athletes,” said Osterman. “I want to be able to go out and keep up with their energy and try to provide insight when needed.”

The youngest of those athletes could be her regular battery mate. Mulipola caught Osterman twice during the tryout camp in early January, and both reported sharing a connection almost immediately.

“I can’t pinpoint what it was but her and I clicked,” said Osterman. “Maybe because she’s quieter and calmer. As a veteran pitcher I don’t have to get a lot of catcher feedback, but she called a great game, got excited for big outs … the connection was pretty cool.”

“Cat made me more calm,” said Muliploa. “The second time I caught her it felt like I’d been catching her for years.”

“When she said she enjoyed throwing to me I told her I was her biggest fan,” she laughed.

The two even shared the same flight home from Florida, where Osterman told Mulipola she did a great job.

“It’s a must for vets to help develop younger players, help them build that database and their skills physically and emotionally,” said Mike Candrea. “To be in it every four years you have to have a flow going.”

Candrea has seen a lot of talent over the years, entering his 34th season as head coach with University of Arizona and also as the head coach of the 2004 and 2008 Olympic teams. And now after a 12-year gap he’s excited to see the past and future come together.

The 1996 debut of softball at the Olympics “gave us a shot in the arm,” Candrea said. “It helped grow the sport.”

He’s hoping the same thing will happen again.

“When young kids watch and dream to wear USA on their chest in softball, that’s the ultimate. More kids will have that dream.”

Kids like Osterman and Mulipola who remember watching Team USA come through town on tour and play games. Kids who grow up to choose softball and become the stars of tomorrow, continuing the cycle.

When the possibility of playing for a medal as a member of Team USA is broached, Mulipola admits to having goosebumps just thinking about it.

“If I can earn a spot, to play for an Olympic medal is mind-blowing,” she said. “To have that chance is the best feeling as a softball player… the peak of the mountain.”

As for her role, Osterman says she’s going in with an open mind and open arms, ready to take any role.

“Softball deserves to be on the Olympic stage,” said Osterman. “I’m excited that it’s back.”

The 18-player roster will be whittled down to 15 prior to the Pan American Games which begin July 26.

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