SOFTBALL: Team USA returns to the Permian Basin for pre-Olympic tour stop

MIDLAND The last time softball was on the Olympic program was during the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Before that competition started, the USA softball team made a stop in Midland while touring the country before heading to China.

The stop brought in the second largest crowd of the tour, something Midland RockHounds general manager Monty Hoppel hopes to repeat or surpass this weekend.

Team USA will take the diamond Friday and Saturday at Momentum Bank Ballpark, playing two doubleheaders against Team Alliance, which will be comprised of collegiate athletes from across the country.

Both doubleheaders start at 5:30 p.m., with the second game both days scheduled to take place 35 minutes after the end of Game 1.

At a press conference Thursday, Hoppel was grateful that the national team chose Midland as one of the stops of its 2020 Stand Beside Her Tour.

The team was originally going to make a stop in Midland last year but its 2020 tour was stopped prematurely when the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the Olympics to this summer.

“They’re making very few stops, so I’d like to think that they had such a good time last time in 2008,” Hoppel said. “We’re looking forward to a great weekend.”

The Olympic roster will feature veteran team members like pitchers Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott, who made appearances in the Beijing games and were part of the national team when it played in Midland 13 years ago.

Those veterans will be joined by three newcomers in catcher Dejah Mulipola, infielder/outfielder Bubba Nickles and pitcher Rachel Garcia.

All three are coming off appearances in the 2021 Women’s College World Series.

Going on her third Olympic tour, Osterman will use the experiences she has picked up to make her young teammates feel comfortable in the new setting.

“It’s talking about taking in the moments, it’s talking about how to handle the emotions sometimes,” Osterman said Thursday. “Sometimes it’s more of relying on experience of having been through the mental and emotional fatigue to share that with them.”

Osterman added that she’s no stranger to college softball and had a hand in helping Scott Smith from The Alliance Fastpitch put together the roster for Team Alliance.

The veteran pitcher is hoping to face off against Janae Jefferson from the University of Texas because of how tough of an out she is.

Team Alliance will feature athletes from multiple Texas universities, including Baylor, Texas Tech and Lubbock Christian.

Odessa High graduate and current Lubbock Christian infielder Skylar Herrera was included on the roster for Team Alliance.

Herrera was named District 2-6A Most Valuable Player during her senior year for the Lady Brnchos and earned District Defensive MVP as a junior.

Team USA head coach Ken Eriksen said the younger members of his squad have already blended well with the experienced professionals.

He is looking forward to getting some training in and dominating the moment throughout the doubleheaders.

“If you’re a young softball player and have aspirations to go on, these are the type of people that play softball at a high level that you want to emulate,” Eriksen said.

Mulipola closed out her collegiate career at the University of Arizona less than a week ago against Florida State in Oklahoma City.

She said she’s grateful to continue playing softball for the women’s national team and hopes to make more Olympic appearances in the future.

“I do have my own experience but I have so much to learn,” Mulipola said. “I hope to continue to learn, especially from the greats in the game that I’m able to play on the same team with.”

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