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Athletes Unlimited announces softball expansion in 2022

(Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited)

Athletes Unlimited Softball is getting an upgrade, with the league announcing on Tuesday that it is expanding to include a new, two-week competition in ahead of the league’s third season.

The new competition, AUX Softball, will take place June 13-26 and coincide with the 50th anniversary of Title IX on June 23.

AU Softball’s third season will then run from July 29-Aug. 28 and take place in the Chicago area. A total of 60 players will participate in the competition, with 35 announced on Tuesday.

“This expansion of Athletes Unlimited Softball offers an additional opportunity for our world-class players to compete at the highest level, while increasing their compensation and bonus potential,” said Athletes Unlimited CEO Jon Patricof. “AUX also provides another opportunity for the huge softball fanbase in this country and around the world to watch and engage with the sport’s best players.”

A total of 31 players from the second season have re-signed with the league for 2022. Of those 31, 27 are set to compete in AUX. Also, for the first time in AU history, 15 players have been offered and signed two-year contracts — a sign of the athletes’ and league’s long-term commitment to professional softball.

Among those signing two-year contracts is Season 2 champion Aleshia Ocasio, who led the league with a 6-5 record, 66 innings pitched and 55 strikeouts in 2021. Runner-up Amanda Chidester and third-place finisher Kelsey Stewart have also signed new contracts.

“The signing of 15 players to two-year contracts represents our commitment to the continued growth and investment in Athletes Unlimited Softball, and allows for greater certainty and continuity,” Patricof said.

Joining the league for the first time are NCAA standout pitcher Rachel Garcia and middle infielder Sierra Romero. The four-time NCAA All-Americans will play in the 2022 AUX competition and regular season.

Romero, a 2016 Michigan graduate, became the first player in NCAA history to record 300 runs, 300 hits and 300 RBIS and is the NCAA record-holder in career runs (302) and grand slams (11).

Garcia, a 2020 Olympic silver medalist, completed her career at UCLA with a 99-17 record and 1.43 ERA with 996 strikeouts. A 2019 Women’s College World Series champion, she was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament and earned USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year and espnW Softball Player of the Year honors in 2018 and 2019.

“After taking some time following the Olympics, I am excited to begin my professional career with Athletes Unlimited next season,” Garcia said. “I’ve enjoyed watching several teammates and friends compete in AU, and I look forward to competing on the same field with the best players in the game. AU is growing the game for professional female athletes and I look forward to being a part of something special.”