Arizona softball likes to load its schedule with the best teams, and Tuesday will take that to a whole new level.
The Wildcats will host the U.S. national team, the No. 1 team in the world, at 7 p.m. MST as the latest opponent on Team USA’s “Stand Beside Her” tour as it prepares for the 2020 Olympics.
It will be a homecoming for UA senior catcher Dejah Mulipola, who is redshirting this season to play for Team USA.
“With Dejah making the team, that was probably kind of an automatic for them to come to Tucson,” said UA coach Mike Candrea, who coached Team USA in 2004 and 2008. “And Kenny Eriksen, who is the head coach with the USA team, was my assistant coach in 2004, so we’ve had a prior relationship and I think they knew that we would be a good opponent for them and it would be a good place to play, draws well, and for us, it’s just a great way to get Dejah back here and give her a warm send off for the rest of the Olympic tour.”
In July, Mulipola will become the seventh UA softball letterwinner to play in the Olympics, joining Jennie Finch, Nicole Giordano, Alicia Hollowell, Lovie Jung, Caitlin Lowe and Leah O’Brien.
She said in October that making Team USA was a dream come true.
“I am so excited to return to Tucson, which I consider my second home,” Mulipola said in a statement. “The fans are the best part about playing at Rita Hillenbrand and me returning on a different team will be a bittersweet feeling because I will be on the other side. However, I am excited to take the field with Team USA and play against my college teammates as well as Coach Candrea, who I hope to make proud on this journey to the 2020 Olympic Games.”
The 2019 NFCA Catcher of the Year, Mulipola is one of three backstops on a loaded USA roster that includes two other college players—UCLA’s Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles.
Team USA is 9-0 on its tour so far, with wins over the likes of No. 8 Florida, No. 10 Kentucky, and No. 16 Oklahoma State.
“It’s gonna be fun because I think it’ll help prepare us for the Mary Nutter (Classic) because we’ve got a full schedule there,” Candrea said. “But it’s an opportunity of a lifetime for our kids to play that game and we’re going to make sure that every kid gets in the game and gets an opportunity to play against USA.”
Candrea suspects Team USA will start 36-year-old Cat Osterman. They also have Monica Abbott, who threw a no-hitter vs. Oklahoma State on Sunday.
Arizona center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza faced both last summer when she tried out for Team USA.
“I think it’s just knowing what they pitch,” she said of the key to hitting them. “I was told facing Cat and Monica, hit the pitch that looks like it’s gonna hit you.”
Abbott and Osterman are arguably the best pitchers in softball history, so it would be understandable if UA players get starstruck when they step into the circle.
Alyssa Denham won’t be one of them.
“To be completely honest, I don’t know anybody,” the UA pitcher said with a smile. “It goes in my advantage sometimes because I’m not really afraid of any one particular. Coach [Taryne Mowatt] always says that maybe it’s a good thing.”
Denham certainly knows a thing or two about Mulipola, though.
“We were really good on the field together because she knows how I’m a kind of a quiet competitor,” Denham said. “I don’t really bring a lot of energy, but I have a little pep in my step and she understands that, but I think it’s gonna be really fun playing against her.”
How to watch
Game time: 7 p.m. MST
TV channel: Pac-12 Networks
Live stream: Pac-12.com/live
Live stats: Arizona StatBroadcast
Team USA roster
- Monica Abbott, LHP (Tennessee, 2007)
- Ali Aguilar, INF (Washington, 2017)
- Valeria Arioto, INF (Cal, 2012)
- Ally Carda, IF/RHP (UCLA, 2015)
- Amanda Chidester, C/IF (Michigan, 2012)
- Taylor Edwards, C (Nebraska, 2014)*
- Hannah Flippen, INF (Utah, 2017)*
- Rachel Garcia, RHP/DP (UCLA, 2020)
- Haylie McCleney, OF (Alabama, 2016)
- Michelle Moultrie, OF (Florida, 2012)
- Dejah Mulipola, C (Arizona, 2020)
- Aubree Munro, C (Florida, 2016)
- Bubba Nickles, UTIL (UCLA, 2020)
- Cat Osterman, LHP (Texas, 2006)
- Janie Reed, OF (Oregon, 2015)
- Keilani Ricketts, LHP/DP (Oklahoma, 2013)*
- Delaney Spaulding, IF (UCLA, 2017)
- Kelsey Stewart, IF (Florida, 2016)