Lisa Fernandez, pitcher, Long Beach, Calif.
On the lofty expectations of Team USA:
The group of athletes that we had and the new additions we have to this team came in knowing that (winning the gold medal) was the expectation. It’s true, anything less than winning a gold medal would be a huge disappointment for this team. Coach (Mike) Candrea has continued to set the standard that we expect of ourselves, to play USA softball, and in doing that be able to walk away with a gold medal. Personally, as one of the older players on this team, I’m fortunate to have teammates that were part of the program in 1996 with Leah (O’Brien-Amico), Laura (Berg) and Laura Harrigan. The combination of the four us help set that standard, both on and off the field, of how we play the game, what’s expected of this team and how we approach the game. Coach Candrea has done an incredible job of pushing this team to an even higher level, to keep the level of USA Softball at a premium. We’ve left no stone unturned. One thing that can happen with a team that’s had the success we’ve had in the past is to become complacent. With the addition of Coach Candrea and the new players, that’s not happened with this program.”
On the team’s preparation:
“We’re prepared, and we’ve done everything we can to prepare for this moment in time. That’s what confidence is all about. There is a way to play this game physically, but it’s the mental part that’s going to separate gold from silver and silver from bronze. We’ve worked extremely hard to get these athletes ready to compete and be ready for the challenge. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve gone through an extensive training period in our own country, where softball is quite dominant, and we’ve been put in situations where we’ve had to come from behind. We’ve had to face those challenges. Our intrasquad games are pretty intense.”
On the upcoming opponents:
“At this stage, any team is truly a threat. I wish the game was played on paper – we’d do pretty good. But the game’s got to be played on the field, and that’s the one day that’s got to be the most important day. One pitch can be the difference between a win and a loss, an error could be the difference. Whether it’s Japan, Chinese Taipei, Greece, Italy, they’re all good. Obviously we have something that all those countries want, and that’s the opportunity to have a gold medal. We’re not overlooking any opponent. We have a tremendous rivalry with Japan, but we also have tremendous rivalries with Australia, China, Chinese Taipei and Canada. Those are teams that we’ve played through world championships and the past Olympics. Italy has come hard on the scene. They’ve made major adjustments, going from not being there to qualifying and being one of the top eight teams in the world.”
Lori Harrigan, pitcher, Las Vegas, Nev.
On the difficulty in learning about the team’s Olympic opponents:
“We have a tremendous coaching staff. They go to the tournaments that the various teams play in and put together scouting reports on different countries. What needs to be taken care of will be taken care of by our coaching staff. They’ve left no stone unturned in that regard. I think we’re pretty familiar with (the opponents), even though we’ve played some more than others. The Greek team that’s newly formed is one that we haven’t played as often, but we still have enough reports on them.”
On the change of the pitching distance from 40 feet to 43 feet:
“I think throwing at 40 feet, you have more velocity, but moving back to 43 feet you can get more movement on the ball. That has definitely worked for me. I’ve added a few pitches at my late age, and that has worked well for me towards the end of my career. This pitching staff, like the other pitching staffs we’ve had, really complements each other, probably more so than others. We have two lefties and two righties, two veterans and two newcomers.”
Jennie Finch, pitcher, La Mirada, Calif.
On the attention she’s received in the mainstream media:
“Anything that brings attention to our sport brings notoriety to it, and that can only help the sport.”
Crystl Bustos, third base, Canyon Country, Calif.
On what they anticipate from each team:
“We’re going to step on the field knowing that every team we’re going against is going to push their game to that whole new level that we probably hadn’t seen. That’s what I’m expecting and our team is expecting. We’ve just got to be ready to step up with them.”
Laura Berg, centerfield, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
On concerns that softball may be dropped from the Olympic Games:
“We know how great a sport softball is and how much attention we get and we believe that we belong in the Games. The television coverage we got in 1996 and 2000 and the crowds that we drew, we know that the sport is incredible to watch. It’s disappointing that it’s on the chopping block.”
Leah O’Brien-Amico, first base, Chino Hills, Calif.
On the depth of the competition:
“I think after what happened in 2000, once again it’s going to come down to every single game. I think every one of our batters that steps into that box is going to be prepared. We’re going to do our homework. We’re not going to look at any one team or one pitching staff. Every country wants to win the gold medal, and every country is doing everything it can to get their athletes to be the very best. That’s why we’re seeing this game grow, not only in our country but across the world.”
Jessica Mendoza, outfield, Camarillo, Calif.
On the flag-raising ceremony in the Olympic Village on Monday:
“This is the first time I have been able to play with USA on my chest. Just yesterday we had the flag raising ceremony. We hear the national anthem all the time back home, before every game, but hearing it in there in the Village and seeing the flag, it brought tears to my eyes.”
Stacey Nuveman, catcher, La Verne, Calif.
On her impressions of Athens:
“I think Athens is nicer than we expected it to be. The reports back home were that the venues weren’t finished and there was construction everywhere. Actually, it’s been very smooth. Greece is a country that works well at the last minute. As far as the Village is concerned, it’s the same thing. It’s a huge city – a small country, actually, and we’re just a small contingent in that Olympic world. We’ve been here for two weeks, and I think we have the upper hand in getting acclimated. We feel like we’re home. We’ve been here long enough that we’re used to the surroundings.”
Mike Candrea, head coach, Casa Grande, Ariz.
On the Greek team, which features a number of Greek-American players:
“They’ve done everything they can to put a competitive team on the field, and I’m excited about it. I think they’ve done a very nice job in a very short period of time. We’re expecting a competitive ball game with the Greeks, no matter where they’re from. It’s been a little easier for us to scout them because we know a lot of the players on that team. It’s an exciting moment for the Greeks and for softball.”
On the recent loss of his wife, Sue:
“Right now I’m going through things I’ve never had to think about because she did it. Every day I come across different things that I might have taken for granted. I’m not going to take anything for granted, or any day for granted. Hopefully I can pass that along to players and coaches in the future, because you never know what’s around the corner for you. I’m sure glad that I have this group (the team) in my life right now. They are definitely going to be a big part of me getting through this. They have given me the love and support that I’ve needed. Right now, I want to make sure that the focus is on this group of athletes.”
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