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Osterman, Abbott headline 2019 USA Softball roster

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Cat Osterman has two Olympic medals and one of the most impressive resumes in her sport. That didn’t stop her from crying when she learned she’d made the 2019 USA Softball roster.

“I am not even too proud to say I bawled like a baby,” Osterman told ESPN. “I just cried.”

On Monday, USA Softball announced the 18 players who will compete in tournaments and events in the next few months before the roster is trimmed to 15 for the Pan American Games this summer.

Osterman, the youngest member of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team in 2004, and Monica Abbott, Osterman’s teammate four years later in Beijing (and the youngest member of that team), are the only two with Olympic experience. The roster includes 13 members of the team that won the WSBC World Championship last summer (including Abbott), qualifying the U.S. for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Osterman and Abbott are two of the most accomplished women in softball: Abbott, 33, pitched a perfect game in an 8-0 victory over the Netherlands at the 2008 Beijing Games, where the U.S. finished with a silver medal. In 2016, the Salinas, California native signed the first $1 million contract in the National Pro Fastpitch League with the Scrap Yard Dawgs (the Texas-based team is now called Scrap Yard Fast Pitch and competes independently).

Osterman, 35, retired in 2015. But in October 2018, she announced her return to the sport, hoping to vie for a spot on the 2020 Olympic team. Currently a pitching coach at Texas State, she had her doubts about coming back to high-level competition: “I struggled in some parts [of the tryout] and felt like I was back to my old self in parts,” she told ESPN. “When you haven’t seen a hitter in a game situation in more than 1200 days, it’s going to take some getting used to.” But Osterman, who pitched in the 3-1 loss to Japan in the 2008 Beijing final, felt she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete for another Olympic spot. “Plain and simple, there’s unfinished business,” she posted on social media when announcing her comeback.

Selection to the 2019 roster does not guarantee players a spot on the Olympic team. USA Softball will conduct separate selection trials in the fall.

The sport will return to the Olympics for the first time since 2008. U.S. women won three straight gold medals from 1996 to 2004 before losing to Japan at the Beijing Games.

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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