The void left behind by the Olympic catcher at the start of Arizona softball’s 2020 season was insurmountable. Dejah Mulipola has been touring the country alongside some of the greatest softball players in the world playing for Team USA. But on Tuesday, she got a chance to stop in Tucson to see her former team and relive the atmosphere of Hillenbrand Stadium.
Team USA faced off against Arizona on Tuesday as part of the “Stand Beside Her” tour before heading off to Tokyo, Japan, to represent the United States in the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Although it might have felt like a warm-up game for most of the Team USA players, Tuesday’s exhibition match meant more to Mulipola than just a normal game. For the former Arizona Wildcat, it was a reunion that was filled with emotion and reminiscence.
“It was amazing,” Mulipola said. “Just to see them on the other side of the field, knowing that they wanted to give me a hug and I wanted to give them a hug. It was just awesome. It felt like I was back at college.”
Mulipola has only been away from Arizona softball for a few months now, but the impact she’s made on her former teammates is something that has been built up over her entire softball career.
“I’ve known [Mulipola] since I was in seventh grade,” said Arizona pitcher Mariah Lopez. “She was my catcher growing up all the way through travel ball. We were very close. It was a big reason why I was interested in going here, too, was having her here … I knew she was going to be picked for the USA team. She’s one of the best in the country, if not the best. Seeing her out there was a really special moment for her and especially for the fans and everything, but just because I’ve known her for so long, it was really nice. I’m really proud of her and she deserves it.”
It can be easy to forget your prior teammates when you’re rubbing elbows with Olympic gold medalists like Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott, but Mulipola has still stayed in contact with her Arizona teammates and is constantly giving advice to the youthful University of Arizona catchers.
“She gives me pointers for everything,” said Arizona's freshman catcher Sharlize Palacios. “She always told me to listen to my pitchers and always stay relaxed and enjoy the game. I think that’s the best advice someone can give a freshman.”
“[Mulipola] gave me advice every day that she was here,” sophomore Izzy Pacho said. “Whether it was the way I was talking to the team or taking charge or anything like that, she always gave advice.”
Mulipola is not only helping her Arizona teammates, but she’s also leaving her mark on Team USA as well. Despite being one of the youngest players on the Olympic roster, Mulipola has already begun to prove her importance and show why she was worthy of playing for Team USA.
“First of all, I don’t know if anybody realizes how funny she is,” said Ken Eriksen, the Team USA head coach. “For somebody that young, she’s really mature. She’s got a great sense of humor. She’s energy every day to the ballpark. She calls a great game for a young kid that’s never really called a game herself before.”
Getting the approval from your coaches is only half the battle; being a catcher also requires you to have a strong relationship with your pitching staff as well, but Mulipola has earned that too.
“She almost doesn’t know how good she is yet,” said Monica Abbott, a Team USA pitcher. “That’s really fun because she’s able to grow so much around all of us, and I love the way she’s able to communicate to her teammates, communicate with her pitchers and just be rock-solid behind the plate. She’s definitely an asset to this team and I look forward to seeing her continue to contribute.”
Mulipola has collected a ton of advice from playing with Team USA so far, but she still always circles back to a phrase that her first collegiate head coach Mike Candrea once said to her.
“Just play wiffle ball. That was a big thing a couple years back and it’s just simplifying the game and going out there and trusting yourself and the work that you put in and just having fun.”
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