Dejah Mulipola reacts during home run derby prior to the game on June 25, 2019 in Tokyo.
U.S. Olympic Softball Team catcher and University of Arizona student-athlete Dejah Mulipola couldn't contain her emotions when USA Softball coach Ken Eriksen had her name in the lineup card prior to a game on Feb. 18.
Playing in the Stand Beside Her tour, that day’s stop was at Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium in Tucson, Arizona, where the Wildcats hosted the 2020 U.S. Olympic Softball Team in an exhibition game. Mulipola waved to her Arizona teammates and then hurried back to the U.S. sideline, tearing up as she took in the moment with the nearly 3,000 fans that came out to watch both her teams play.
“I love playing at Rita,” Mulipola said. “It's such an awesome atmosphere and to have our new stadium and Team USA there as well to see it all was just awesome.”
Mulipola, along with national team teammates Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles, are three of 174 current student-athletes also on U.S. national teams. Those students have the honor and added responsibility of representing their universities and country.
“You want to be like a regular student and then your friends are like, ‘Oh let’s go do this and let’s go do that,’ but you have to remember you have 6 a.m. weights the next day and practice later on, too,” Mulipola said. “You have this brutal, physical schedule you have to go through as well as the education part of it.”
Those 174 student-athletes spread over 15 Olympic sports, two Paralympic sports, 60 schools and 20 conferences. Stanford University has the most current national team student-athletes with 18, the University of Texas follows with 10 and the University of Southern California has eight.
Mulipola credits her time at Arizona, where she’s coached by Mike Candrea, who was the coach for the 2004 and 2008 U.S. Olympic Softball Teams, for preparing her to thrive in the unique spot she’s in today.
“One of the most useful things he (Candrea) told is to not take softball so seriously,” she said. “There are a lot of things that go on outside of softball, in the real world and in life, which he always tries to teach us.”
Collegiate swimming makes up most of the current national team student-athlete footprint with 72.
In a sport like softball, which has a national team roster of 100 percent collegiate-participation rate, Mulipola is seeing the benefits of playing for a top collegiate program. Arizona fell to the University of Alabama in the Women’s College World Series in 2019.
“I think it just kind of prepares you more; you’ve been on that stage and you know what it's like to have those butterflies flowing through in the big moments,” she said. “I know personally I’ve always been taught to practice at that high stage so when you get into the game situations it’s nothing new.”
Apparent by her emotions when Mulipola’s Olympic team faced Arizona, where the U.S. squeaked out a 5-4 win, the catcher said while being a student-athlete in both the college and national team world isn’t always easy, it’s worth it.
“I get to live out an Olympic dream and then go back and live out my senior year,” said Mulipola, who took a redshirt season this year to focus on national team responsibilities. “I love Tucson and I love playing for Team USA, so it’s just the best of both worlds for me.”