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Local players, coach happy softball being brought back
Former Central Valley High School head coach Kristen Ghimenti supports the International Olympic Committees decision to add softball to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Softball was an Olympic sport from 1996 to 2008. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Softball, baseball and four other sports have been added to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games as announced by the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday.

Local softball enthusiasts, including three players and one coach, expressed excitement after hearing the positive news.

"When it was taken out of the Olympics (in 2008), a part of me was disappointed," said Kristen Ghimenti, head coach of Central Valley High School's varsity softball program for the past five seasons. "I understood that the committee wanted diversity and competition on a global scale, but in 2008 the USA didn't even win the gold. I guess it made me question if they made the decision too quickly."

"Obviously, I'm super psyched for it to happen," Ceres High senior pitcher Callie Nunes said. "It's a really big deal. The softball community was upset when it got taken away. It didn't seem fair. I heard it happened because USA was always winning."

"It crushed a lot of peoples' dreams when they took it out," said Mahlena O'Neal, who starred at catcher for four years with the Bulldogs and will continue her playing career at the University of Georgia on scholarship. "I'm extremely happy it's back. It's good for our younger generation. It will get more girls across the country playing the sport."

Softball was an Olympic sport from 1996 to 2008.

Team USA won gold in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

Japan upset Team USA, 3-1, in the finals in 2008.

"I don't think I remember 1996," said Ghimenti, who played varsity softball at Ceres High for three years (2005-07). "I was 7, but 2000, 2004, and 2008 I watched. Being a pitcher, I enjoyed watching Lisa Fernandez, Jennie Finch, Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott. Natasha Watley, shortstop, was also so good. I remember watching her play for UCLA and then seeing her at the Olympics. "

"I watched a few games live with my travel ball team in the Los Angeles area when I was younger," O'Neal said. "I also watched them play on TV. Lisa Fernandez and Monica Abbott inspired me the most. That's a goal of every softball player. Who doesn't want to represent their country, travel around the world and play?"

After losing an appeal in 2013, softball and baseball were voted back unanimously this past week.

Four other sports will be making their debut at the next Summer Olympics, including karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing.

Baseball made its debut as an Olympic sport in 1992. It was last played in the Olympics in 2008 in Beijing prior to being removed before the 2012 London Games.

"As for the softball and baseball inclusion in the 2020 Olympics, I think it illustrates the growth of interest for both sports on a world scale," Ghimenti said. "Even here, I see that there are so many more teams and players participating in competitive softball and baseball leagues from the younger age levels. It is a very exciting time and a chance to allow both sports to garner recognition on a global stage."

The 2020 Olympics will be staged in Tokyo.

Nicole Bates, Ceres High's most accomplished softball player, will strive to earn a spot on Team USA.

A standout hitter and shortstop with the Bulldogs from 2013-16, Bates will continue her softball career at the University of Washington.

Nicole was one of the top-10 recruits in the nation.

She was named Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball State Player of the Year.

She also participated in the Premier Girls Fastpitch High School All-American Game.

"We were all pretty disappointed when it got taken out of the Olympics," Bates said. "Now that it's back, we're so excited. It would be pretty amazing if I made the team. I've always wanted to wear red, white and blue, and represent my country."