When Arizona fans last saw Danielle O’Toole in an Wildcats uniform she was being removed from a winner-take-all game for a trip to the 2017 Women’s College World Series.
The pitcher who came to Tucson to help the Wildcats return to that elusive WCWS and win a title wasn’t in the circle when Baylor’s Shelby McGlaun hit the go-ahead three-run homer that day.
Now, O’Toole is getting the chance to compete for championships on the international and professional stages.
“It is a feeling that is hard to explain,” O’Toole said. “It is unbelievable and exciting. My career at Arizona brought me many things, it was some of the best years of my life.
“But being able to go on and compete for our country and possibly in 2020 is truly amazing. I am so blessed and happy to even have the opportunity to compete at the highest level.”
Life in the circle
That “highest level” means playing for the No. 1 ranked team in international softball along with some of the greats of the game. O’Toole competed with Team USA over the summer, taking home gold in each tournament.
Now, as the Wildcats prepare to take the field for this weekend’s 2018 Fall Invitational, their former pitcher is suiting up for the national team once again, preparing for the Japan Cup in the first week of November.
While preparing for yet another international tournament, O’Toole can look back on a successful summer. It started with USA Team Red in the USA Softball International Cup.
While her team went 6-0, O’Toole struggled a bit in the tournament. She pitched 6.1 innings in two games, ending with a 5.53 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP.
O’Toole pitched 3.0 innings against Scrap Yard Fast Pitch in an 11-5 win. She then got the call to start the championship game, going 3.1 innings against Japan. Her team showed their offensive prowess again, overpowering their opponent by a score of 10-5.
Later in the month, she joined Team USA to travel to Chiba, Japan for the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championships. The experience in Southern California served her well, as O’Toole had a much stronger effort in helping her team to a 10-0 week and a spot in the 2020 Olympics.
Facing some of the best teams in the international game, O’Toole walked away without giving up a run in 4.2 innings at the World Championships. More importantly, her team took the 7-6 win over No. 2 Japan for the gold in what was a true road game for the Americans.
In between international appearances, she’s been pitching professionally for the Chicago Bandits of National Pro Fastpitch, although she said she’s been more focused on Team USA this year.
Coming back to the U.S. didn’t mean an end to high-level competition. The Bandits faced off against the USSSA Pride for the championship shortly after O’Toole returned from Japan. While the Bandits lost that series, it was one more championship experience for the Wildcats’ former ace.
Both her international and professional careers have put her in a new situation: facing off against fellow Wildcat alumnae. At the USA International Cup, her team faced Katiyana Mauga’s Scrap Yard Fast Pitch. At the WBSC championships, they would face off against Brigitte Del Ponte with Mexico’s national team and Chelsea Suitos with the Philippines. O’Toole was part of the victorious side each time.
The NPF championship series gave her a taste of being on the losing side against fellow Wildcats. Chelsea Goodacre and Hallie Wilson raised the 2018 Cowles Cup with the USSSA Pride in a three-game sweep of O’Toole’s Chicago Bandits.
Win or lose, O’Toole finds positives just in facing off against others who share the experience of going through the Arizona softball program.
“It’s fun to be able to see different graduation classes on the same field,” she said. “At one point in time we were all playing to make it to a WCWS, and now we are playing for something else. To me that just shows what kind of grit, determination, and pedigree that Coach Candrea and the Arizona softball program provide.”
While Candrea and her fellow Wildcats helped her prepare for this stage in her life, she believes being on the national team gives her both the opportunity and the duty to learn even more.
“I think I have grown a lot playing with the national team both mentally and physically,” O’Toole said. “Once you get to this level, not growing isn’t an option. I have learned how to be a better teammate, and how to embrace a couple different roles on a team. I have learned that at this time in my life, I am meeting some of the best people and it is amazing to even know them. It’s irresponsible of me to be around the best athletes of this generation and not learn something. From the coaching staff, to my teammates, to going on trips around the world; I have learned that we make an impact on people everywhere we go. Even if it’s just for a split second.
“It is so hard to say which teammate has had the biggest impact on me, and if you were around us long enough you would understand why,” she continued. “Each of us is such a true individual. Everyone is weird and different, and yet we are all the same in some way.
“Being around people like Val Arioto and Michelle Moultrie, who were a part of USA back when there was nothing…it humbles you. When we won Gold this past trip to Chiba, I immediately centered my attention on to those two. When Kelsey Stewart hit the walk off to win the game, when we got up from the dog pile the first person I hugged was Meesh. I have never seen a smile so big. I grabbed her helmet and held onto her tight. To be a part of something so great and bold from the beginning. It changes your perspective. Putting your lives on hold every year to go and do what you love because you love it.
“Softball is growing. We are helping the game grow. And I am just very lucky to be a part of a team where each individual has helped and had an impact on not only myself but others in some way.”
Life in the dugout
When she’s not competing, O’Toole is coaching at the University of San Diego. Head coach Melissa McElvain hired O’Toole prior to last season, and she will return to the Torero staff this year.
Despite the competing responsibilities and time commitments, O’Toole is happy to be working with the next generation. It’s made easier by working alongside people who support her pursuit of representing Team USA, even when it means she misses time with the USD team.
“My main responsibility is the pitchers,” she said. “Juggling all of that isn’t so difficult when you are focused. As 2020 comes around it will get harder. I enjoy teaching a different generation. Everyday I learn something new, and they help me become a better player.
“Team USA is going to play during [USD’s] fall season. We are leaving for the Japan Cup at the end of October. In order to do that, I have to rely on our head coach, Melissa McElvain, and assistant coach Mark Viramontes to help me. They are big time supporters of what I do and why I do it and I am appreciative of that.”
The importance of the Olympics
O’Toole and her fellow coaches make the sacrifices, because she believes it’s important that the sport is represented on the largest international stage.
“Being a part of USA Softball has changed my life,” she said. “There was a point, after 2008 when all our hearts broke. I was 14. I didn’t even dream to be a part of Team USA because they said it was no longer an Olympic sport. It’s sad looking back on it, that we lost 10 years in development of the game because girls my age had the same mindset that I had.
“I used to watch videos of Cat [Osterman] and Jennie [Finch] on Youtube, to learn and wish and hope to be that good one day. My dad always told me I could do it. He would sit on the bucket forever. My mom too. I am still learning, and hoping to be as good as they once were, but it is amazing that our sport has grown so much and the opportunity is knocking at the door for not only myself, but everyone on Team USA, and for every little girl who wants to grow up and be like us.
“The dream is back. And it is alive more than ever. It is a relief to know that the little girls who were like us once, who put all the time and effort, the parents who put their time and effort into their kids competitive lives, they have an opportunity to play on the highest stage. I just hope I get to be a part of it.”
How to keep up with former and current Wildcats
O’Toole and Team USA will be in Takasaki City, Japan from Nov. 2-4. Fans can follow along via Team USA’s Live Stats.
To see the current Wildcats play this weekend, fans need to go in person. The games will be held at Lincoln Park at 8116 E. Escalante Rd on the southeast side of Tucson. The schedule is available on the UA website. Arizona softball will return to play in the newly-renovated Hillenbrand Stadium when the regular season starts in February.