Team USA Returns To Action At January Training Camp
In less than six months, softball is expected to be back at the Olympic Games for the first time since 2008. Though the fate of the Tokyo Games still feels like it hangs in the balance because of COVID-19, Team USA isn't missing its chance to prepare for the opportunity that is expected to be ahead in July.
From Jan. 4 through Jan. 16, the squad participated in training camp at Florida Southern College, which marked the first time the U.S. women's national softball team had been together since March.
“(After) being at home for the last however many months, being able to step on the field in general was so much fun and just a blessing,” Team USA veteran Valerie Arioto told Softball America. “And I’m so glad that USA Softball created this opportunity for us to get back on the field.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team had to go through a series of protocols in order to keep the players and coaching staff safe while at camp. The players were split into pods based on their positions, and they spent most of their time in those pods to limit their exposure to others. Each pod was also provided with separate cars to travel back and forth from their residences with throughout training camp.
In addition to staying in those pods, the team was tested for the virus every other day.
“I was really impressed with how USA Softball was so organized and put our health as athletes first,” Arioto said. “And honestly, it was one of the best trainings, given the circumstances, that we could have had.”
The first week the team was in Florida, players went through different situations and did ground ball work to help get them back into playing shape.
“The first week was kind of like, 'Let’s just get our feet under us. We’re not used to wearing cleats,'” Arioto said. “The first week, we did a lot of two-a-days where we did defense in the morning and hit live in the evening. And then we did strength and conditioning five days of the week.”
The second week, the team scrimmaged every day to get the feel of the game back after not playing together in over 10 months.
“A lot of us hadn’t seen live (pitching), and just being able to get our timing back, get a rhythm again, (was important),” Arioto explained. “A lot of that last week was scrimmages facing our own pitchers, pitchers facing hitters and then also seeing that live flow of the game.”
After the second week, the players all traveled back to their respective homes to await the next training camp date, which has not yet been announced. Arioto did explain that even though nothing is set in stone yet, the team is eager to get back onto the field again.
“Just being able to step on the field together again, because we hadn’t in so long, meant more to us. I felt like we, as a team, bonded on another level,” Arioto said. “I think just this appreciation that has been gained from having to stay at home for so long and being away from each other, it was really special when we did get back together.”
Team USA is slated to begin its quest for a fourth Olympic gold medal on July 21 against Italy in Fukushima, Japan.