After Team USA staved off Arizona 5-4, Dejah Mulipola stood on the first-base line and fielded some questions from the Pac-12 Network crew. Her eyes were fixed on the camera in front of her, her ears covered by a headset.
Little did she know that a horde of Arizona players were darting toward her to give her the biggest group hug of her life.
“We love you!” they yelled, their arms engulfing Mulipola, who cracked a wide smile.
“I felt like I was back in college,” she said. “Just in a different uniform.”
Mulipola had just wrapped up a festive night at Hillenbrand Stadium in which her new team, the U.S. Olympic team, took on her old team, the Arizona Wildcats.
In July, Mulipola will become the seventh UA softball letterwinner to play in the Olympics, and she was welcomed back to Tucson like the softball royalty that she is.
She was featured in Tuesday’s pregame intro video and had the honor of handing Team USA’s lineup card to Arizona coach Mike Candrea before he zipped the ceremonial first pitch into her catcher’s mitt.
Her teammates, new and old, clapped from the baselines as Mulipola waved to the standing-room-only crowd of 2,941.
“I was about to cry,” she said. “A lot of emotions, a lot of feelings, but they’re all good.”
Fellow Wildcat Olympians Jennie Finch, Alicia Hollowell, Nicole Giordano, Leah O’Brien and Lovie Jung were among the folks supporting Mulipola from the stands.
“It was amazing just because they’re part of the greats,” Mulipola said. “They’re Olympians and it’s cool to say that I’m now a part of them, and they treat me that way.”
Then came the weird part for Mulipola—having to file into the opposing dugout and compete against Arizona and the pitchers she used to catch on the daily. And, as it turns out, record the game-winning hit off them.
Mulipola went 1 for 3 in Team USA’s win over the Wildcats, ripping an RBI single to left in the third inning to put USA up 5-0, a lead that would get whittled all the way down to 5-4 after Jessie Harper clubbed two homers.
Mulipola was nervous at first, eventually settling in by her second at-bat.
“It’s not like I hadn’t played here before,” she said.
It was a unique experience for her now-former Arizona teammates too, especially Harper. The two made their UA debuts together in 2017, though nowadays that seems hard to believe.
“That was so weird knowing that she’s my age but she’s doing these amazing things,” Harper said. “We’re definitely going to miss her this year, but I’m so excited to hear all her stories and see what an amazing experience she’s going to have in her journey in winning a gold medal.”
Mulipola, who is redshirting and will return to Arizona in 2021, said it still has not sunk in that she’s an Olympian. She reckons that moment will come when Team USA takes the diamond in Tokyo in July.
Until then, Mulipola will be touring the country with the national team, playing games in 36 cities in 20 states as the Americans prepare for their big moment. Mulipola likened it to the life of a professional athlete.
No school; only softball.
“She’s in a good place,” Candrea said. “She’s talented and just needs to trust the process because it’s a lot different. What I always tell people going to the Olympics is you’ve got one moment to put it all together.”
Mulipola promises to take advantage of it. Before she left Hillenbrand with Team USA, she hugged Candrea, who whispered a few words in her ear. She whispered some back.
“He said to make him proud,” Mulipola said. “And I said I will.”
Here’s Dejah Mulipola after facing Arizona Softball with Team USAPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Tuesday, February 18, 2020