The U.S. women's softball team celebrates at the medal presentation after winning the 2016 Women's World Softball Championship on July 24, 2016 in Surrey, British Columbia.
Winning a world championship is never easy, even for a powerhouse such as the USA Softball women’s national team.
Despite nine world championship titles, heading into this summer’s Women’s World Softball Championship in Surrey, British Columbia, the No. 2-ranked U.S. women hadn’t tasted victory since 2010. They lost in the gold-medal game to Japan in 2012 and again in 2014 before defeating them twice in 24 hours at the end of July to claim their 10th world championship title.
“This year it felt like it was a combination of everything because we all got along really well right from the beginning of the first practice,” catcher Amanda Chidester said. “Everyone just clicked, and everyone playing wanted to be there.”
Team USA finished the tournament with a .436 batting average and outscored opponents 83-10 while hitting 19 home runs and totaling 80 RBIs. The pitching staff had an ERA of 1.19, allowing just eight earned runs the entire tournament.
Janie Takeda said she remembers leaning over to one of her teammates on the bench during the semifinal game and saying, “We look so good right now.”
“Everyone was hitting, one to nine, and playing defense really well,” Takeda said. “We’ve also been pitching by committee a lot this year, which has been really awesome. Our pitchers have been taking chunks of the game and dominating whatever they’re given, and that’s huge, especially in softball.
“In baseball, you’re used to that, but in softball you see a lot more pitchers throw complete games. All our pitchers accepted their roles and just dominated.”
It was that sense of everyone not only knowing but also embracing her role that helped make Team USA the ultimate team this year, Chidester said.
Toward the end of the tournament, the lineup was essentially set, she said, but even those who started the games on the bench, such as Takeda, gave the team so much energy simply with the level of support they offered.
“Maybe I’d catch one game, then Aubree (Munro) would catch another and we were both all in,” she said. “One of the girls, (catcher) Paige Halstead, from UCLA, ended up being an alternate at the last minute. She had no idea she was going to be an alternate but she got our pitchers ready every single game and never complained once. Everybody found their role and you didn’t hear, ‘I should be playing,’ or, ‘There’s no reason I should be an alternate.’ Everyone just bought in.
“I’ve been on so many teams and I can honestly say the only team I’ve ever been on like that was when I won two state championships in high school.”
Disappointment over lack of playing time would be natural, if not expected, given that the members of Team USA have always played such important starting roles throughout their high school and college careers. The desire to be in the game at its most critical moment is something all elite athletes possess. It’s that drive that helps them reach the top of their sport.
Yet Chidester and Takeda both gave credit to coach Ken Eriksen and his staff for putting together a roster that wasn’t just the 18 best athletes, but also the 18 best personalities to work together as a team.
“Obviously I wanted to be on the field, but (starters) Jazmyn Jackson, Haylie McCleney and Michelle Moultrie were doing so awesome, why wouldn’t I buy into (my role)?” Takeda said. “All the coaches do a great job of reminding you of the bigger picture; that it doesn’t mean you’re not good at softball or they don’t need you. You have a key role being ready at any time, supporting your teammates and not throwing a fit. There were a few of us who didn’t get a lot of playing time, but the coaches help build the culture and the veterans help build the culture that it doesn’t matter who’s out there. All that matters is that the team gets it done, and that was the genuine feeling across the board.”
Team USA adds its 10th world title to an impressive array of accomplishments. The team has also won eight World Cup of Softball titles and the national team is one of just two women’s sports to capture three straight gold medals in the Olympic Games since 1996. Baseball and softball both were dropped from the Olympic program following the 2008 Games, where the women’s team lost to Japan in the gold-medal game.
Having been part of the team that lost to Japan in each of the past two world championships, this year’s victory was particularly sweet, Chidester said. Even better was the fact that the team kept working to improve as the tournament went on.
“Everyone strived to get better for the team, and that was huge,” Chidester said. “Everyone was accountable for their position and their roles and we just took off and got better every single game.”