Six Softball Players To Watch In The Tokyo Olympics
Softball’s long-awaited return to the Olympics is finally over. After being removed from the Olympic program after the 2008 Games, softball was brought back for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, though rescheduling to 2021 occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The six teams competing for gold this summer include Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico and the United States. Below, we name six athletes who we believe you should keep an eye on in Tokyo, as they are six of the best softball players in the entire world who will have a chance to achieve Olympic glory for their respective national teams.
Former University of Washington pitcher Gabbie Plain will be competing in this week's Olympics with her home nation of Australia. Averaging a 1.40 ERA during her past four season at UW, Plain is a top-notch ace.
She tallied 850 strikeouts throughout her college career and 335 of them were from the 2020-2021 season. She averaged a little over 10 strikeouts per game. With only 13 career losses over four years, Plain is accustomed to dominating on the mound.
Australia has a rich history at the Olympics in softball, having won medals in every Olympics they have competed in since the start of softball at the Olympics in 1996 to its last appearance in 2008. They won a silver medal in 2004 and bronze in 1996, 2000 and 2008. With Plain on the roster, Australia undoubtedly has strength in the circle.
Team Canada also features another ace from the University of Washington. Having led UW to its 2009 national championship and being a widely-known softball broadcaster, Lawrie is a familiar name in the softball world.
Lawrie already has Olympic experience after competing in the 2008 Games. However, Canada's semifinal loss to Australia in the last Olympics with softball did not satisfy her competitive nature. She is ready to compete again and bring home a medal for Canada.
Team Canada has yet to win any Olympic medals in softball, however, Lawrie has experience with championships and playing on behalf of her home nation.
Team Italy’s Erika Piancastelli is a sure player to keep an eye out for. A member of the Athletes Unlimited softball league during its inaugural season in 2020, Piancastelli ranked fourth overall in points during the 2020 AU season. A catcher and slugger with one of the best swings in the game, she was tied for the most home runs in the league last AU season and rocked a .885 slugging percentage.
Piancastelli graduated from McNeese State in 2018, holding three school records. The two-time NFCA All-American has plenty of international experience and has been on the Italian national team since 2015. Piancastelli will be a threat to any pitcher she faces in Tokyo.
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At 38 years old, Yukiko Ueno is back for the Tokyo Olympics. The last gold medal awarded at the Olympics was earned by Team Japan in 2008, with Ueno on the mound.
Ueno is the only pitcher to have ever pitched a perfect game in the Olympics, shutting down China in the semifinals in 2004. Ueno is an indisputable ace in the circle, having won gold in 2008 and bronze in 2004. Team Japan is the only other country besides the USA to ever win a gold medal in softball at the Olympics, also winning a silver medal in 2000.
Team Japan was automatically allowed into the Olympic mix, being that Tokyo is the capital of the host country. Ueno will surely take advantage of being in her home country during Team Japan’s Olympic run.
University of Arizona graduate Danielle O’Toole will be on the mound representing Team Mexico this week. A professional player for Athletes Unlimited, O’Toole was ranked second in the league in strikeouts with 42 for the 2020 season. She finished her final collegiate season in 2017 with a 1.08 ERA and 191 strikeouts.
O’Toole was the 2017 Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year and led her team that year to a Pac-12 championship. Further cementing her amazing season, she was also named a 2017 first-team NFCA All-American. During the Olympic qualifiers, O’Toole only allowed one run over the course of 14 innings.
Although she was a member of Team USA in 2017 and 2018, O'Toole will be competing in the Tokyo Olympics with Team Mexico this week. Team Mexico will be making its first appearance in softball at the Olympics with O'Toole leading the way.
Monica Abbott, one of the most renowned names in the softball world, is returning to the Olympic softball stage this week. Having won a silver medal in 2008, Abbott is back to win gold. She is a professional player in the Japan Softball League, so Tokyo is not unfamiliar to her.
Abbott has had success at multiple levels of softball over many years, having played collegiate softball for Tennessee and striking out 2,440 batters throughout her career. Abbott still holds the NCAA record for career strikeouts, including a record-high 724 strikeouts during her senior season.
At 35 years old, she is an absolute powerhouse on the mound. Team USA holds three Olympic gold medals from 1996 to 2004 as well as one silver from 2008. Abbott will likely be a major key to Team USA's success this week.