Posted on February 21, 2020
On the Diamond with Team USA
After two weeks of playing in Florida, it was time for Team USA’s Stand Beside Her Tour to make its way to Pac-12 land. It’s only fitting considering the number of past and present Pac-12 stars on the team.
Of the 15 team members, eight hail from the Conference of Champions. That includes three current student-athletes: UCLA’s Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles and Arizona’s Dejah Mulipola.
As the only current student-athletes to make the roster, the trio has different challenges than their teammates. They are taking a semester away from school and the season away from college softball to chase their dreams of Olympic gold.
In the worst-case scenario, it will be their only chance. After the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, softball and baseball will disappear from the games until at least 2028. Even then, it will be a battle to get them back. While new sports were added for the 2024 games in Paris, neither softball nor baseball were considered.
Team USA head coach Ken Eriksen is already looking towards the future and believes that the foundation of USA Softball might be in those young Pac-12 players on both teams. Building on that foundation comes in two parts. First, it’s about having a team ready to play. Perhaps the bigger challenge is getting them the opportunity to play beyond the World Championships by convincing the European members of the IOC to vote for the sport’s inclusion.
“It’s almost like you have to start again like we did in 2011,” Eriksen said. “And really hope and wish for and promote the game going to ‘28. So when you go out and pick a team next year and the year after to try to get involved in USA Softball, you have to think about what’s the age of our women going to be in ’28. So you’re going to have to look again maybe towards the college ranks right away. You’ll probably have some people retire on the national team program, and then you have some young people also, like Dejah and Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles, that will be people that are carrying forth the torch.”
Deciding to take the opportunity to carry that torch isn’t without its sacrifices. All three are giving up their chance to finish their college careers with their classes. For Garcia and Nickles, it’s even bigger than that.
The UCLA duo will not be with their team as the Bruins attempt to defend their Women’s College World Series title. It wasn’t an easy decision to make.
“At first, it really was (a challenge) because we’ve got so close to our team and going through that much adversity together,” Nickles said. “It’s something that you really bond over. But we’re really excited because coming off of that and seeing how much adversity it took just to be in a World Series, it’s really exciting to jump into something bigger now. And I think that (Garcia) and I were prepared and we had each other and that’s the best part.”
Mulipola doesn’t have the same experience of joining a teammate on the trip, but at least Nickles and Garcia can relate to what she’s going through.
“She’s someone that is also in the same boat with us,” Garcia said. “We’re all in a senior year of college, we have to sit out. Tonight was super emotional for her but it’s cool that she’s doing this with us and we can all three of us actually support each other along the way.”
Players of the Week
The Oregon Ducks went into last week ranked No. 21. A 4-0 week vaulted them into No. 15 in the rankings and earned Pac-12 Player of the Week for sophomore infielder Rachel Cid.
Pitcher of the Week was a difficult decision. A week with two no-hitters will do that. Oregon State’s Mariah Mazon got the nod after throwing her second no-hitter of the young season. In a game that went five due to the run rule, Mazon had seven strikeouts.
There was one other thing. Mazon didn’t just pitch a no-hitter, but she also took up the bat as she did. She had two hits and two RBI as she kept the Houston Cougars from getting their own hits.
Another pitcher with a big bat took Freshman of the Week honors. Washington’s Kelley Lynch has been a little up and down in the circle as she gets acclimated to college softball. She didn’t have any problems in the batter’s box last week, though.
Only three pitchers in Husky softball history had pitched multiple scoreless innings and hit a home run in the same game. Only one freshman had accomplished the feat. Then came Lynch, who added her name to both groups as she went 5.1 innings against No. 5 Florida State while blasting one out of the park.
Eight of the Conference’s nine teams are already in Cathedral City, Calif., for the premier early-season tournament in college softball, the Mary Nutter Classic. All but Stanford joined the teams that venture to the California desert every February to see what they’re made of
The Pac-12 teams won’t face each other, but they join a field featuring teams from every major conference in the country and Team USA. Among the major match-ups are No. 1 UCLA and No. 5 Arizona facing No. 7 Florida and No. 2 Washington going up against No. 3 Oklahoma.
The problem for fans is that short of going to the desert outside Palm Springs, it’s difficult to watch the games. Streaming is available via FloSoftball only, and subscriptions cost $30 per month.
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