Summing up an entire year in five words isn’t always easy, but it was for USA Softball.
“We qualified for the Olympics!”
That was the message blasted out on social media along with the hashtag #2018infivewords, looking back on a monumental year that few teams will be able to top.
It all really started in July at the International Cup, which proved to be a harbinger of great things to come.
The undefeated USA Red squad beat Japan in the gold-medal game, sparked by Valerie Arioto’s three home runs, in a 10-5 victory. The tournament also saw one of the best pitchers Team USA has ever seen, 2008 Olympian Monica Abbott, return to international competition for the first time in years. With the squads split, USA Blue beat China for the bronze medal.
All that was just lead-up to the big tournament, though.
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August saw the start of the WBSC World Championship in Chiba, Japan, and although world championships are always a big deal, this one was different.
This marked the first opportunity for a team to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, where the sport is set to make an Olympic return after a 12-year absence. And while there was no reason to think the U.S. wouldn’t get there eventually, the squad’s goal was to take care of business right away — while winning a world title along the way.
They did exactly that.
The U.S. clinched a berth in the Olympics by reaching the gold-medal game against host Japan, which has an automatic entry into the 2020 Games as host. But not satisfied with simply qualifying, the U.S. women punctuated the accomplishment with a dramatic 7-6 walk-off win in extra innings to defend their world title.
Not only did Aug. 12 become the day the team officially qualified for the sport’s long-awaited return to the Olympics, but Americans also repeated as world champions for the first time since 2006 and 2010. It was Team USA’s 11th world title.
Later, in November, the U.S. overcame Japan once again to claim the Japan Cup title. Abbott pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout in the 4-0 championship win.
With all the success, the U.S. retained the ranking of No. 1 in the world all year and had a perfect, 20-0 season.
The members of Team USA also embraced the opportunity to share some positivity with others and get involved in the community in 2018. Whether that was taking in the local culture in Iwakuni, Japan, while preparing for the world championships, or surprising students in California communities ravaged by wildfires, as they did earlier this month in an event with the United States Olympic Committee’s Team for Tomorrow program, Team USA members showed their love for their fans and supporters this past year.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.