It’s easy for Dejah Mulipola to find a silver lining during the coronavirus crisis. It created the ultimate win-win situation for her.
In 2021, the All-American catcher will get to wrap up her Arizona softball career with the senior class she came in with, then compete with Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics that same summer.
Getting the best of both worlds would have been impossible without the pandemic, which canceled the 2020 college softball season and postponed the Olympics until 2021.
Mulipola also needed an assist from USA Softball, which is allowing her to return to college in 2021 instead of spending another year on tour with the national team.
Had their ruling been different, Mulipola was prepared to return to Arizona softball in 2022 as the only remaining member of her senior class.
“It was a little bittersweet being on the Olympic tour and living out that dream but also being sad that I wasn’t with my class back at Arizona,” said Mulipola, who was redshirting in 2020. “So to hear that I got to do both in the end was super exciting for me, and I’m just pumped that it happened that way.”
Mulipola will bring 20 home-run power, elite defense and much more to the Wildcats’ clubhouse. In 2019, her most recent season at Arizona, she won the Johnny Bench Award and was arguably the best player on a Women’s College World Series team.
“To me, she’s the total package,” UA coach Mike Candrea said. “She’s become a really strong leader for our program and there were times when we dearly missed her. I’m just very, very excited to have her athletic talent back but more importantly just her presence on a day-to-day basis. I think she makes other people better. She’s got great rapport with her teammates. She’s a kid that everyone looks up to, that does things the right way.”
With Mulipola and Arizona’s six other star seniors back in the fold, the Wildcats will be one of the best teams in the country next season. Expectations are championship or bust—and rightfully so.
“Our expectations are always high and I think this gives us a foundation that you very seldom have,” Candrea said. “This senior class is a very unique class because they bring a lot of talent, but they have been our core for many years.”
All seven upperclassmen have Women’s College World Series experience, and Mulipola even got a taste of what it takes to be a professional athlete when she trained with Team USA, where her days were all softball, no school.
She also got to pick the brains of some of the best players in the sport, and is looking forward to imparting that knowledge on Arizona’s eight incoming freshmen, the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.
Mulipola likened it to when she was a freshman and her highly-touted class had the privilege of learning from seniors like Katiyana Mauga, Mo Mercado and Danielle O’Toole.
“This team is very special to me,” Mulipola said. “Some of these girls I’ve played with since my rec ball days, so they’re like family to me and I’m super excited that I get to finish what I started with them, just because we’ve always talked about this since our freshman year, that we can’t wait to be seniors. We can’t wait to be in their position and welcome a freshman class of awesome girls who are going to come in and fill that role when they’re in our spot. It’s just continuing the Arizona softball tradition and showing them the ropes.”
Another bonus in all of this: Mulipola will be reunited with senior pitcher Mariah Lopez, a transfer from Oklahoma who was only supposed to be at Arizona in 2020, Mulipola’s redshirt season.
The two go way back. When Lopez was nine, she tried out for Mulipola’s travel team in Southern California; Mulipola was the catcher. They were teammates for years and remained close friends even when they parted ways for college.
“We kind of have that tight-knit sister bond and to be able to go to college together now and finish out our senior year is so special,” Mulipola said. “She texted me and was like, ‘I’m kind of bummed you’re going to the Olympics and I don’t get to finish with you, but I’m so excited for you.’ And now it worked out to where I get to play with her and still go to the Olympics, so I’m super pumped for that.”