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.
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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
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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
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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.