US Olympic Softball Goes for the (Blue and) Gold
The 2008 U.S. Olympic softball team is more than a quarter Bruin. With Bruin help, the U.S. has won every Olympic gold for softball.
By Paul Sterman
Published Jul 29, 2008 10:40 AM
UCLA softball coach Kelly Inouye-Perez refers to it as the "Bruin Bubble." She's talking about the cocoon of closeness and common goals that envelops members of the school's softball program.
From that bubble has emerged a long line of terrific ballplayers. UCLA has served as a pipeline to the Olympic softball teams over the years, providing one standout player after another to the United States squads.
And this year is no different. Four Bruin alumnae are on the U.S. team that will play in the Beijing Olympics this summer: Stacey Nuveman '02, Natasha Watley '05, Tairia Mims Flowers '05 and Andrea Duran '07.
"I'm so proud of the Bruin players going to Beijing," says Inouye-Perez, who played catcher on three NCAA championship teams for UCLA. "Those four are all such great representatives of UCLA — they're not only great, great softball players, but they're great people too."
It's a pretty impressive percentage: Of the 15 players on the U.S. Olympics team, four are from UCLA — more than one-fourth of the team.
And that doesn't even include a fifth Bruin — three-time gold medalist Lisa Fernandez '95. The pitcher was on this year's U.S. national team touring the country in preparation for the Olympics, but was one of three players cut in March when the roster was reduced to the final 15. She remains an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team.
Fernandez gained her golds starring on all three previous U.S. Olympic softball teams (1996, 2000 and 2004). She's also been an assistant coach at UCLA since 1995.
Olympic softball's last year?
Olympic softball debuted in 1996, but this could be its last year, unless the sport can mount a reinstatement bid to reverse the International Olympic Committee's vote to cut it from future games. In its short run, Olympic softball has been dominated by the U.S, which won every gold. In 2004, the U.S. team absolutely destroyed the opposition, winning all nine contests it played and outscoring the opposition by a cumulative score of 51-1.
"UCLA's history in softball is unmatched," says Nuveman, a clutch-hitting catcher who was also a member of the 2000 and 2004 Olympic squads. As examples, she recalls "all of the national championships we've won here [a total of 11 in the school's history], the All-Americans, the Olympians.
"And it's not just the Olympians on the U.S. teams; there's been a lot of UCLA players on the Olympic teams of other countries — Australia, Puerto Rico, Honduras."
In Beijing, "We know we can make history," Flowers says.
Of the four former Bruins, Duran is the only one to be playing in her first Olympics.
"It's been awesome being on the team, because I grew up watching some of the girls out here on the field," says Duran, an All-American third baseman for the Bruins in 2006. "It's so cool to be out here with the players who paved the way for our sport."
The Bruin Bubble
The women from Westwood talk glowingly about their time at UCLA, even mentioning the caring "Bruin Bubble." Flowers and Watley arrived as freshmen in 2001, became roommates, and led their team to the NCAA championship in 2003. Along the way, the two became best friends. As Olympic teammates, they still room together.
Flowers not only met her best friend at UCLA — she met her husband there, too. The slugging first baseman married fellow athlete Jason Flowers, who played basketball for the Bruins. At their 2003 wedding, Watley was her maid of honor — and the entire UCLA softball team, including the coaches, were in attendance.
Watley says she grew tremendously as a student-athlete at UCLA.
"I learned so much about myself and how I function," recalls the speedy shortstop. "I learned about time management, about being a better softball player, just everything.
"At the time it was so hard, playing softball and trying to keep up your grades, but I feel it made me a better person," Watley said. "I feel like I could face anything now, any kind of adversity."