Olympic softball: Meet the six teams going for gold

Japan v USA - Softball Friendly
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By Erica Ayala

The last time softball was in the Olympics Beyoncé and Jay-Z were newlyweds and Sex and the City 1 was in movie theaters. Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the field has dropped from eight teams to six for the Tokyo Games. Despite the 13-year absence, there are seven returning Olympians competing in Tokyo. 

Japan – the defending Olympic champions – return their battery Ueno Yukiko (pitcher) and Yukiko Mine (catcher), as well as outfielder and captain Yamada Eri

From the United States, pitchers Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman will return to the circle after winning a silver medal in 2008 (Osterman also competed in 2004, claiming gold). Australian infielder Stacey Porter and Canadian pitcher Danielle Lawrie also competed in 2008 and will return to their respective teams in Tokyo. 

RELATED: On Her Turf’s day-by-day guide to the Tokyo Olympics

It’s a great time for softball to return to the Olympics. The 2021 Women’s College World Series (WCWS) was the most-watched ever, averaging 1,203,000 viewers per ESPN. The opening day quadruple header pulled the most views (755,000) since the opening day of the 2009 WCWS. That said, softball won’t be contested at the 2024 Paris Olympics, though the sport could make a reappearance at the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

We may not know what the long-term future holds for softball but we do know there are bound to be exciting performances by familiar faces and up-and-coming stars. Here are the most important things you need to know about the field of six before Australia takes on Japan Tuesday at 8:00 pm ET on NBCSN (TV schedule and live stream link here). 

Olympic Softball Tournament Format

Each team will play each other once in the opening round. The top two teams will progress to the gold medal game, while the third and fourth-ranked teams will play for bronze. Games will consist of seven innings with extra innings played until one team has outscored the other at the completion of the inning.

Tiebreakers for the win-loss record will be the head-to-head game, followed by runs allowed in the opening round. In the event two or more teams are tied, the federation with the lowest runs against record will be granted the higher rank.

Get to Know the Softball Teams Competing in Tokyo

United States – Olympic Softball Roster

The heavy favorites for gold in Tokyo qualified by defeating Japan 7-6 at the 2018 Women’s Softball World Championship. Kelsey Stewart, who will make her Olympic debut in Tokyo, cracked a screamer down the third-base line to score two runs in the bottom of the 10th. 

WSBC World Rank: 1st

Olympic Record: 3 gold medals (1996, 2000, 2004), 1 silver (2008)

  • Pitchers: 14 – Monica Abbott, 3 – Ally Carda, 21 – Rachel Garcia, 38 – Cat Osterman
  • Catchers: 34 – Dejah Mulipola, 1 – Aubree Munro 
  • Infielders: 2 – Ali Aguilar, 20 – Valerie Arioto, 99 – Delaney Spaulding 
  • Outfielders: 8 – Haylie McCleney, 16 – Michelle Moultrie, 9 – Janie Reed 
  • Utilities: 4 – Amanda Chidester, 48 – Bubba Nickles, 7 – Kelsey Stewart

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: When 7-time Olympian Formiga was born, women in Brazil were banned from playing soccer

Japan – Olympic Softball Roster

Although the hosts will not have an arena full of fans supporting them, the Japanese are more than capable of earning a top-two finish in the opening round and punching their ticket straight to the gold medal game. Head coach Utsugi Reika is the only woman head coach among the 2020 Olympic Softball field. She earned silver (Sydney, 2000) and bronze (Athens, 2004) medals as a member of the Japanese National Softball Team. 

WSBC World Rank: 2nd

Olympic Record: 1 gold (2008), 1 silver (2004), 1 bronze (2000), did not medal in 1996

  • Pitchers: 17 – Ueno Yukiko 27 – Goto Miu 16 – Fujita Yamato
  • Catchers: 25 – Agatsuma Haruka  21 – Kiyohara Nayu 1 – Mine Yukiyo
  • Infielders: 12 – Atsumi Mana , 4 – Ichiguchi Yuka, 10 – Kawabata Hitomi , 14 – Naito Minori, 5 – Yamamoto Yu
  • Outfielders: 8 – Harada Nodoka, 9 – Mori Sayaka, 11 – Yamada Eri, 2 – Yamazaki Saki

Canada – Olympic Softball Roster

Canada qualified as the runners-up in the 2019 Olympic Qualifiers. Veterans like pitcher Danielle Lawrie and outfielder Victoria Hayward will be the anchors looking to push the Canadians into medal contention in Tokyo.

WSBC World Rank: 3rd

Olympic Record: Best finish was 4th in 2008

  • Pitchers: 29 – Jenna Caira, 17 – Sara Groenewegen, 15 – Danielle Lawrie, 38 – Lauren Regula
  • Catchers: 55 – Kaleigh Rafter, 2 – Natalie Wideman
  • Infielders: 19 – Emma Entzminger, 1 – Kelsey Harshman, 14 – Janet Leung, 7 – Jenn Salling
  • Outfielders: 26 – Larissa Franklin, 25 – Jennifer Gilbert, 8 – Victoria Hayward, 3 – Erika Polidori
  • Utility: 5 – Joey Lye

Mexico – Olympic Softball Roster

Mexico are the new kids on the block but have already proved they are a contender by going undefeated in the 2019 Olympic Qualifiers. Pitcher Dallas Escobedo struck out 20 batters in 11 total innings to help Team Mexico earn a spot in the Tokyo Games. 

WSBC World Rank: 5th

Olympic Record: First Olympics

  • Pitchers: 12 – Dallas Escobedo 89 – Sierra Hyland, 18 – Taylor McQuillin 3 – Danielle O’Toole
  • Catchers: 22 – Brittany Cervantes, 13 – Sashel Palacios 
  • Infielders: 11 – Chelsea Gonzales, 2 – Sydney Romero, 20 – Amanda Sanchez, 17 – Anissa Urtez 8 – Victoria Vidales 
  • Outfielders: 23 – Stefania Aradillas, 5 – Suzannah Brookshire, 17 – Tatyana Forbes, 10 – Nicole Rangel

RELATED: 100 ways women can make history at the Tokyo Olympics

Australia – Olympic Softball Roster

Despite winning a medal in every Olympics to-date, Australia has fallen in the world rankings. Two-time Olympian Stacey Porter is confident her team has done on and off the field and believes Australia will be a medal contender at the close of the round robin stage.

WSBC World Rank: 8th

Olympic Record: Silver (2004), Bronze (2000, 2008)

  • Pitchers: 32 – Kaia Parnaby, 54 – Gabbie Plain, 6 – Ellen Roberts, 14 – Tarni Stepto
  • Catchers: 22 – Belinda White
  • Infielders: 4 – Stacey McManus, 44 – Leah Parry, 16 – Stacey Porter, 2 – Clare Warwick
  • Outfielders: 17 – Leigh Godfrey, 1 – Jade Wall
  • Utilities: 47 – Michelle Cox, 25 – Chelsea Forkin, 31 – Rachel Lack, 65 – Taylah Tsitsikronis

Italy – Olympic Softball Roster

Italy has the potential to be one of the more exciting teams in the tournament. Listed as a utility player, Erika Piancastelli was phenomenal in her first Athletes Unlimited season. She hit .327 in with 15 RBI in 17 hits. Wins over Canada and Australia in the opening round will put Italy in position to advance to the medal round.

WSBC World Rank: 9th

Olympic Record: Best finish was 5th in the 2000 Games

  • Pitchers: 7 – Ilaria CaccimaniI, 18 – Greta Cecchetti, 5 – Alexia Lacatena
  • Infielders: 26 – Emily Patricia Carosone, 12 – Amanda Fama, 8 – Andrea Marie Filler, 27 – Giulia Metaxia Koutsoyanopulos, 14 – Giulia Longhi
  • Outfielders: 22 – Andrea Howard, 4 – Fabrizia Marrone, 23 – Beatrice Ricchi, 21 – Laura Vigna
  • Utilities: 15 – Elisa Cecchetti, 19 – Marta Gasparotto, 20 – Erika Piancastelli

Olympic Softball Schedule

Softball Games on Tuesday, July 20, 2021:

  • Japan vs. Australia: Japan won 8-1

  • USA vs. Italy: USA won 2-0

Softball Games on Wednesday, July 21, 2021:

  • Mexico vs. Canada: Canada won 4-0

  • USA vs. Canada (8pm ET on NBCSN, live stream link here)

  • Mexico vs. Japan (11pm ET on NBCSN, live stream link here)

The full Olympic softball schedule can be found here.

The NBC Olympics research team contributed to this report.

2022 Rivalry Series: USA extends lead to 3-0 over Canada in women’s hockey showcase

Hilary Knight #21 of Team United States reacts after scoring a shorthanded goal in the second period during the Women's Ice Hockey Gold Medal match.
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Hilary Knight had two goals and one assist to lead the U.S. women’s hockey team to a 4-2 win over Canada on Sunday, extending Team USA’s series lead to 3-0 in the seven-game 2022-23 Rivalry Series.

Savannah Harmon and Abby Roque also scored for the U.S., which has notched three consecutive wins against Canada for the first time since 2019. Goalie Nicole Hensley made 22 saves in front of a record-setting crown at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, where fan attendance totaled 14,551.

Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Nurse scored for Canada, which captured gold \at both the IIHF Women’s World Championship in September and the Beijing Olympics in February.

Knight has enjoyed a standout 2022-23 Rivalry Series to date, registering six points (three goals, three assists) in the first three games including the game-winning goal in a shootout victory in Game 1 of the series on Tuesday and the game-winning assist in Game 2 on Thursday. Prior to the puck drop in Seattle on Sunday, Knight was presented with a golden stick to commemorate her record-breaking 87th career point in world championship play. Knight became the all-time points leader at the IIHF Women’s World Championship in September, when the eight-time world champion recorded one goal and one assist in Team USA’s 12-1 quarterfinal win over Hungary.

Sunday’s matchup between the U.S. and Canada marked the third game of the 2022-23 Rivalry Series and was the third matchup between the two teams in five days. The U.S. came in with a 2-0 series lead following a 2-1 victory on Thursday in Kamloops, B.C., and a 4-3 shootout victory — the first shootout in Rivalry Series history — in Kelowna, B.C., on Tuesday. It also was the first game for the U.S. national team on home soil since Dec. 17, 2021, when the team hosted Canada in St. Louis (Canada won 3-2 in overtime).

The 2022-23 Rivalry Series continues next month with two games in the U.S., set to be played in Las Vegas on Dec. 17 and Los Angeles on Dec. 19.

2022-23 Rivalry Series schedule, results

Tuesday, Nov. 15 USA 4, CAN 3 (SO) Kelowna, British Columbia NHL Network
Thursday, Nov. 17 USA 2, CAN 1 Kamloops, British Columbia NHL Network
Sunday, Nov. 20 USA 4, CAN 2 Seattle, Washington NHL Network
Thursday, Dec. 15 10 p.m. ET Henderson, Nevada NHL Network
Monday, Dec. 19 10 p.m. ET Los Angeles, California NHL Network

What is the Rivalry Series?

The Rivalry Series was introduced by USA Hockey and Hockey Canada during the 2018-19 season and designed as an annual showcase of the highest level of women’s hockey at various locations in the United States and Canada. The first series comprised three games between the two national teams, with Canada winning 2-1. Team USA took 2019-20 title, winning the expanded five-game series 4-1 and wrapping with an overtime win in the finale in front of a then-record-breaking total of 13,320 fans in Anaheim, California.

Following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic and preparation for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, the Rivalry Series resumed this season with seven games over three months: three in November, two in December and two in February.

The U.S. and Canada have battled in the gold-medal game of six of seven Winter Olympics and 20 of 21 IIHF Women’s World Championship, with the two exceptions being the 2019 World Championship and 2006 Olympics. The Canadian women are the reigning Olympic and world champions.

2022-23 Rivalry Series rewind: USA takes Games 1-2

Game 1 recap: USA 4, CAN 3, SO (Nov. 15): The series kicked off Tuesday with Team USA grabbing a 2-0 lead off goals from Hannah Brandt and Hilary Knight. But Canada battled back with three unanswered goals and held a 3-2 lead with 13 minutes to go in the third. With just 1:29 remaining in regulation, Alex Carpenter tied it for the Americans, sending the game to overtime. The U.S. ultimately won in a shootout, with Knight and Carpenter scoring while U.S. goalie Nicole Hensley made two key saves.

Game 2 recap: USA 2, CAN 1 (Nov. 17): Canada was first to get on the board Thursday when Marie-Philip Poulin capitalized off a penalty shot opportunity in the second period, but USA’s Kendall Coyne Schofield knotted the score just 1:12 later. Alex Carpenter scored the go-ahead tally with 6:36 remaining in the third to give the U.S. a 2-1 win and a 2-0 series lead. U.S. goalie Maddie Rooney recorded 19 saves in net.

Who’s playing in the 2022-23 Rivalry Series?

Team USA’s roster — led by coach John Wroblewski — for the November Rivalry Series games features 23 players, 16 of whom were part of the silver medal-winning team at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship in August:

  • Hannah Brandt (Vadnais Heights, Minn.)
  • Alex Carpenter (North Reading, Mass.)
  • Kendall Coyne Schofield (Palos Heights, Ill.)
  • Jincy Dunne (O’Fallon, Mo.)
  • Aerin Frankel(Chappaqua, N.Y.)
  • Rory Guilday (Minnetonka, Minn.)
  • Savannah Harmon (Downers Grove, Ill.)
  • Nicole Hensley (Lakewood, Colo.)
  • Megan Keller (Farmington Hills, Mich.)
  • Amanda Kessel (Madison, Wis.)
  • Hilary Knight (Sun Valley, Idaho)
  • Kelly Pannek (Plymouth, Minn.)
  • Abby Roque (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.)
  • Hayley Scamurra (Getzville, N.Y.)
  • Maddie Rooney (Andover, Minn.)
  • Lee Stecklein (Roseville, Minn.).

Team Canada’s 23-player roster, selected by coach Troy Ryan and director of hockey operations Gina Kingsbury, features 16 players who were on the gold medal-winning team at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship and the 2022 Beijing Olympics (Canada beat , including:

  • Erin Ambrose
  • Kristen Campbell
  • Emily Clark
  • Ann-Renée Desbiens
  • Renata Fast
  • Brianne Jenner
  • Jocelyne Larocque
  • Emma Maltais
  • Emerance Maschmeyer
  • Sarah Nurse
  • Marie-Philip Poulin
  • Jamie Lee Rattray
  • Ella Shelton
  • Laura Stacey
  • Blayre Turnbull
  • Micah Zandee-Hart

Rivalry Series history

Following Sunday’s victory, the U.S. holds a 6-2-1-2 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record over Canada all time in the Rivalry Series. Canada won the 2018-19 Rivalry Series with a 2-0-0-1 record, while the U.S. won the 2019-20 Rivalry Series with a 3-1-1-0 record.

2019-20 Rivalry Series results

Dec. 14, 2019 USA 4, CAN 1 Hartford, Connecticut Alex Cavallini
Dec. 17, 2019 USA 2, CAN 1 Moncton, N.B. Alex Carpenter
Feb. 3, 2020 CAN 3, USA 2 (OT) Victoria, B.C. Hilary Knight
Feb. 5, 2020 USA 3, CAN 1 Vancouver, B.C. Katie Burt
Feb. 8, 2020 USA 4, CAN 3 (OT) Anaheim, California Megan Bozek

2018-19 Rivalry Series results

Feb. 12 USA 1, CAN 0 London, Ontario
Feb. 14 CAN 4, USA 3 Toronto, Ontario
Feb. 17 CAN 2, USA 0 Detroit Michigan

Atthaya Thitikul takes LPGA rookie-of-year honors in stride ahead of Tour Championship

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand smiles after the birdie on the 6th green during the second round of the TOTO Japan Classic.
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To say that Atthaya Thitikul has enjoyed a breakout rookie LPGA season is a bit of an understatement, but keeping things low-key is exactly how 19-year-old “Jeeno” likes it.

As the 2022 season concludes this week at the CME Group Tour Championship, Thitikul has already captured two LPGA titles, held the No. 1 spot in the world rankings and collected the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors. But the current world No. 2 displays a wise-beyond-her-years ethos when she says what she’s most proud of this season is her mindset.

“[I’m]19 years old — I think I’m still young to handle all the things that I have now,” Thitikul told On Her Turf ahead of this week’s season finale in Naples, Fla. “I didn’t say that I handled it well, but I’ve just said that I think I can handle it. I can do it. And yeah, it’s turned out to be pretty good this year.”

To keep herself in check, the Thailand native keeps her philosophy posted on her Instagram profile, which reads, “Be you, be happy and everything will be fine.” Thitikul, who on Oct. 31 joined 18-time LPGA winner Lydia Ko as the only players in tour history to reach No. 1 before their 20th birthday, said she took stock of poor performances on the golf course and found they all had one thing in common: She wasn’t being herself.

“I didn’t have fun,” she says of those unsatisfactory rounds. “I was expecting a lot of results on the golf course, not really talking, not really enjoying it. So I think being myself, have fun, keep smiling, keep laughing and talking with other players or talking with my caddie, joking around — I think it’s the best that I can do.”

Golf has always been fun for Thitikul, who grew up in northeast Thailand and was introduced to the sport at age 6 through her father and grandfather, both of whom were not golfers themselves but recognized the opportunity that golf might provide. Thitikul teases that her grandfather was enamored with Tiger Woods, but after her first golf experience with a professional in Bangkok, she was hooked, too.

“They asked me when I finished practicing, do I like it? And I say, ‘Yeah, I do.’ Because [there were] a lot of friends and when I practice, it seemed fun and it seemed not like other sports that I have been watching on TV,” she recalls.

Thitikul’s ascent to the top of her sport was swift: In February 2017, just three days after her 14th birthday, she made her first LPGA tournament appearance at the Honda LPGA Thailand and finished 37th out of 66 players. Just five months later, Thitikul made headlines when she became the youngest person ever to win a professional golf tour event at age 14 years, 4 months and 19 days old, winning the Ladies European Thailand Championship on the Ladies European Tour (LET).

RELATED: 2022 CME Group Tour Championship — How to watch, who’s playing in LPGA’s season finale

For three more years, Thitikul resisted turning professional, racking up multiple international amateur victories and plenty of tour experience, notching her first LPGA top-10 finish in March 2018 at the HSBC Women’s World Championship (T-8) and earning low amateur honors that same year at two majors, the ANA Inspiration (T-30) and Women’s British Open (T-64). The following year, she won the Ladies European Thailand Championship for the second time in three years, earned low amateur honors at the British Open (finishing T-29) for the second straight year and was No. 1 on the women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.

In her first year as a pro, during the pandemic-impacted 2020 season, Thitikul broke through for her first professional win in July at the Thai LPGA Championship. She finished the season with five Thai LPGA wins and topped the money list.

Thitikul moved to the LET in 2021, winning the Czech Ladies Open in June, and just a month later she moved into the top 100 on the world rankings for the first time at No. 89. She finished 2021 with two wins, three runner-ups and nine additional top-10 finishes, securing the LET Order of Merit and Rookie of the Year titles and becoming just the fourth player to win both awards in the same season.

After finishing third at LPGA Qualifying School to earn her card for 2022, Thitikul didn’t miss a beat in her meteoric rise this season. She posted two top-10s in her first four starts before striking a staff deal with Callaway, which she followed up by winning her first LPGA title in March at the JTBC Classic. She carded an 8-under 64 in the final round to force a playoff and Nanna Koerstz Madsen on the second extra hole. She earned her second LPGA title in September at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, tying the tournament record of 61 in the second round and beating Danielle Kang in a playoff.

As for the pressure of being a teen phenom, Thitikul admits she can’t ignore it but has figured out how to turn it around to her advantage: “It’s still so hard because I think as players want to be on top and we put the pressure on ourselves, and there’s a lot of eyes on us. … But at the same time, it’s kind of like you couldn’t win every week, you couldn’t have a good day every day. It’s golf. I like to think of pressure as a challenge. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I think of it as challenging.”

Away from the golf course, Thitikul enjoys spending time with friends, watching Korean television dramas and indulging in Asian food (Chinese and Korean are favorites). Although she doesn’t have a pet, she says she’s a dog person, and prefers the mountains to the beach, as she loves to hike.

But don’t expect too much lounging, hiking or other non-golf activities on Thitikul’s itinerary after this season wraps on Sunday.

“This offseason, we have a lot of work to do,” she says.” There are a lot of things I still have to learn – not just for next year but for [beyond.] … But hopefully next year, it’s going to be nice and good for me as well. I really want to have a major win in my career. I don’t know if it’s going to happen next year, but hopefully.”