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Thirteen years after their last Olympics, USA Softball is savoring the moment

Cat Osterman (Jade Hewitt, Courtesy of USA Softball)

Somewhere in Dejah Mulipola’s childhood home in Garden Grove, Calif., maybe in a basement or the back of a closet — she can’t quite remember where — is an all-star jacket from her youth softball days.

Well, there’s probably more than one. The 23-year-old former Arizona softball star and current member of Team USA likely has countless mementos marking her already successful softball career.

But this particular jacket is special. In 2008, when Team USA went on tour leading up to the Beijing Olympics, Mulipola remembers confidently walking up to a few players and asking them to sign her jacket.

“I thought I was so cool going up to them and asking for autographs on my jacket,” she said with a laugh.

That was 13 years ago. It was also the last time softball was featured in the Olympic games.

Then, Dejah Mulipola was a 10-year-old all-star. Now, with softball making a return to the Summer Games, she’s an Olympian.

This year’s United States squad is full of new faces like Mulipola. In fact, it’s essentially all new players. Just two members managed to bridge the 13-year gap and make the team once again: 38-year-old Cat Osterman and 35-year-old Monica Abbott.

Dejah Mulipola, playing in her first Olympics, will catch for Cat Osterman, playing in her third. (Jade Hewitt, Courtesy of USA Softball)

For Mulipola, the 2008 Olympics are a distant memory. She’s certain she watched the games, but doesn’t have any recollections past getting her jacket signed.

For Osterman, the memory feels more palpable. She recalls the disappointment of taking silver and the feeling of “unfinished business” that lingered from it.

In the years since Beijing, Osterman played professional softball before eventually retiring and becoming a coach at Texas State University. When the sport’s return to the Olympics was made official, Osterman was initially up for a spot on the coaching staff.

But it didn’t take long for the pitcher to realize that, though she had retired in 2018, her playing days weren’t really over.

“I realized deep down that I didn’t want to be part of the coaching staff,” Osterman said. “I knew that it was going to be really difficult to coach at a level where I could probably still compete.”

As Osterman set out to get back into softball shape — it’s not quite like riding a bike, she said — Mulipola was fully in the sport. She and fellow Team USA members Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles (both from UCLA) all redshirted during their senior seasons to participate in the Stand Beside Her Tour. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic happened — an obvious curse sprinkled with a blessing.

“It was a roller-coaster of emotions, with COVID hitting and the tour being postponed,” Mulipolah said. “But it was also a blessing because it meant I got to go back and finish out my collegiate career and still go to the Olympics in the same year.”

Osterman (Jade Hewitt, Courtesy of USA Softball)

It also meant more time with Caitlin Lowe, Arizona’s assistant coach during Mulipola’s college career who was recently promoted to head coach of the Wildcats.

Lowe played for Team USA in Beijing, so she knows what this means to Mulipola and softball as a whole. She was one of the players hurt by the 13-year gap after her first and only Olympic appearance, but she has no regrets for herself.

When Lowe was younger, she remembers going to watch the Yankees play the Red Sox on the Fourth of July and thinking, “This is as American as it gets.”

Then she went to the Olympics, and that patriotic memory was unseated by something even stronger.

During the opening ceremonies in Beijing, the USA athletes from every sport lined up in a tunnel. She likened it to a football team getting ready to run out on the field, just on a much grander scale. The lights were off, and it was dead silent. Then someone started chanting, “USA, USA, USA!” More people joined in, then a few more, and a few more, until every athlete was chanting in unison.

“To this day, it gives me goosebumps thinking about it,” Lowe said.

Memories like that are enough for Lowe. But since 2008, young girls haven’t had a team to look up to, and for Lowe, that is the worst part.

“I never had any frustrations for myself,” she said. “But I had those frustrations for the younger generations that were coming up. Because when I was growing up, I got to watch them compete in the Olympics and that was where my goals started. That is why I worked so hard.”

Mulipola (Jade Hewitt, Courtesy of USA Softball)

Seeing softball back in the Olympics was emotional for Lowe, and seeing one of her players competing with two of her former teammates was even sweeter.

When the roster was announced, Osterman texted Lowe to say she was thrilled that Mulipola made the team. Osterman, a 38-year-old pitcher, told Lowe she loved throwing to the 23-year-old catcher.

“I texted back and said, ‘Take care of her,’” Lowe said. “And Cat texted back and said, ‘She can take care of herself.’”

In reality, the two will take care of each other and their sport. They have to, because Olympic softball finds itself in another precarious position.

After two Olympics without the sport, Tokyo serves as an interruption of that gap, but it doesn’t necessarily mark the return of softball to the Games. Softball isn’t slated for Paris in 2024, after the Olympic committee voted in favor of other sports replacing it, so like it was for Lowe, this could be Mulipola’s only chance to compete.

“To be able to compete for a gold medal is such a big deal,” Mulipola said. “It honestly feels like a dream when I talk about it, but it is real life for me. So I mean, that is pretty cool.”

Because of the uncertainty, Osterman knows she is lucky to be competing in her third Olympics. She remembers the nerves that came during her first Games in 2004, when she was one of the youngest players on the team. She also remembers what she calls “the pure excitement” of it all.

Now, Osterman knows what to expect. So does Abbott, but no one else on the team does.

“The novelty of it isn’t the same,” Osterman said. “Now I get to watch my teammates soak it in and see it through their eyes. I’m excited to be a part of that with them.”

Lowe is experiencing a similar sensation. Though she only got to compete in 2008, watching Mulipola is almost like being there again. As soon as her star catcher made the roster, Lowe bought tickets to go to Tokyo. Now that Olympic organizers have barred all spectators from the arenas because of COVID-19 concerns, Lowe, along with Mulipola’s friends and family, will have to watch her virtually.

Team USA will take on Italy in the opening round on July 21, when Mulipola will square off against Arizona teammate Giulia Koutsoyanopulos. The U.S. is considered the favorite, coming into the Olympics with the No. 1 ranking, followed by No. 2 Japan and No. 3 Canada.

(Jade Hewitt, Courtesy of USA Softball)

If this is the final act for Olympic softball, Mulipola, Osterman and everyone in between want to take great care in remembering it and sending their sport off in the best way they can: by winning gold.

“We have a great chance,” Mulipola said. “The women on this team are very prepared as a unit. I think the only people who are in our way are ourselves. So, we can’t take any team lightly. We just have to play our game, go out and do what we do, and the gold medal will find its way to us.”

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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