Daily Times (Primos, PA)

College softball an anchor for Olympic hopefuls in pandemic

- By Cliff Brunt

NORMAN, OKLA. » Division I softball is providing a training ground this season for players preparing for the 2021 Summer Olympics in Japan.

UCLA’s Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles and Arizona’s Dejah Mulipola are on the U.S. squad that will go to Tokyo. Oklahoma’s Nicole Mendes and North Carolina State’s Tatyana Forbes will play for Mexico, their schools said. Washington’s Gabbie Plain is a finalist for a slot on Australia’s team.

During Olympic years, Team USA’s college players who are finalists for the Olympic squad usually travel the country playing with the national team. Garcia, Nickles and Mulipola made a joint decision with Team USA and coach Ken Eriksen to stay with their college teams this year.

Eriksen said the other 15 U.S. players are not touring this time because of COVID-19 has taken opportunit­ies off the table. He said the situation favors college players who get game competitio­n.

“They actually have a bonus factor over the other 15 players in that they’re getting daily training,” Eriksen said of the college players. “They’re getting daily atbats, they’re getting daily reps. I wish the situation with COVID was different, that the other 15 were getting just as much time.”

Arizona coach Mike Candrea, who coached the gold medal-winning USA squad at the 2004 Games and the team that earned silver in 2008, said annual tour games don’t offer as much of a challenge as the college players find with their schools.

“When we go on tour, we’re playing teams we know we’re going to beat,” he said. “The competitio­n level is not as good as you would like it to be, whereas I think the three college kids are going to have an opportunit­y to play a very difficult schedule that will prepare them.”

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