Getting Back In Touch With The U.S. Women’s Softball Team
by Todd Kortemeier
Cat Osterman poses at the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympic shoot on November 23, 2019 in West Hollywood, California.
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There are plenty of reasons for U.S. softball fans to be excited for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Sure, there’s the fact that the world’s No. 1 team has a great shot to bring home the gold medal, but an even bigger reason for excitement is simply that softball is back at the Games.
Team USA will take to the Olympic field for the first time since 2008, when the Americans won the silver medal in the most recent edition of Olympic softball. The U.S. has never failed to medal at any edition of softball at the Games, winning three gold medals in a row from 1996 to 2004.
Team USA better make this one count. Softball will be back off the Olympic program in 2024. Organizers are hopeful to have softball in the 2028 Los Angeles Games, but that determination will be made down the road.
For now, the U.S. will try and keep doing what it’s been doing since the final out in Beijing: win.
Team USA’s Olympic history is almost perfect, but it has been nearly as dominant at the Women’s Softball World Cup, the sport’s world championship. The U.S. has won 11 world championships dating back to the third edition of the tournament in 1974. Its most recent one came in 2018, when the U.S. topped Japan and booked its place in Tokyo in the process.
In 2019, Team USA claimed its ninth gold medal at the Pan American Games. The Americans dropped just a single game against Canada only to get revenge in the gold-medal game. Competition has been limited ever since for the team, which reconvened in 2021 for a series of exhibition games on the “Stand Beside Her” tour leading up to the Games.
The most recent Olympic softball tournament may have been 13 years ago, but Team USA will have some Olympic experience on the team. Pitchers Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman were each in Beijing, with Abbott having one of the standout performances of the tournament to the tune of a 3-0 record and 0.29 ERA. Osterman goes back even further with Team USA, making her Olympic debut in 2004.
Abbott and Osterman were both stars in college in addition to with Team USA, and the national team again boasts some of the best from the college ranks. Rachel Garcia recently concluded her career with UCLA, where she won a national championship in 2019. Garcia won 99 games for the Bruins with a 1.43 ERA while also hitting .337 for her career with 43 home runs and 175 RBI. Garcia was named Collegiate Player of the Year by USA Softball in 2018 and 2019.
Haylie McCleney played her college softball at Alabama, and has gone on to become one of the best outfielders in the game. McCleney led Team USA with a .520 average at the 2018 world championships while playing a strong center field. In the infield, the U.S. will have a reliable veteran in Valerie Arioto, a member of the national team since 2011.
The U.S. may be No. 1, but that also makes the team the No. 1 target. The competition is expected to be fierce in Tokyo. The six teams in the tournament all rank in the top 10 in the world and two are in the top three right behind Team USA in Japan and Canada. All five teams are capable of giving the U.S. trouble, but the gold medal is likely to come down to the U.S. or Japan.
The two teams met in the final of the last seven world championships as well as at the most recent Olympic tournament. While the stadiums in Yokohama and Fukushima will be void of fans at the Games, Japan still possesses some comfort as the home team. But that was no issue for Team USA at the 2018 world championships, when the Americans knocked off Japan on home soil.
The competition format is simple. The six teams will play each other in a round-robin with the top two meeting for gold and the third- and fourth-place teams playing for bronze. The U.S. faces Mexico in its opening-round game on July 21.