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VOL. 43 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 18, 2019

Turner follows Abbott with selection to Team USA

By Rhiannon Potkey

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Monica Abbott is one of the greatest pitchers in the history of softball. The former All-American set numerous NCAA records while at the University of Tennessee and won an Olympic silver medal for Team USA.

But even Abbott still gets nervous at tryouts.

Despite her sterling credentials, the dominant left-hander didn’t take anything for granted last week when competing for a spot on the 2019 U.S. Women’s National Team.

“It’s a tryout, so no one is safe. Nothing is guaranteed, and I think that is what helps make America good,” Abbott says. “You can go to a tryout and ball out and make it. It keeps everyone on their toes. Just like the Bible says, ‘iron sharpens iron.’”

Abbott performed to expectations during the five-day camp in Florida, making the cut for the 18-player roster. Team USA will compete in select tournaments and invitational events before the 15-player roster is finalized for the Pan American Games in Peru in July and August.

With softball returning to the Olympic program in 2020, players are trying to showcase their worth for a chance to wear the USA jersey on the ultimate stage. Being named to the national team for this cycle doesn’t guarantee a trip to Tokyo, but it’s an important start.

“I felt confident and prepared going in, and then you get to the tryout and you are like, ‘Holy cow. There are so many good people here,’ and you kind of have this moment of wondering if you did enough to really be ready,” Abbott explains.

“I don’t need to remind everyone about Lisa Fernandez,” she adds, referring to the three-time Olympic gold medalist pitcher and third baseman. “She was an alternate in 2008. It’s Lisa Fernandez. There are no guarantees.”

Abbott is one of two left-handed pitchers with Tennessee connections that will be representing Team USA this summer.

Lady Vols softball signee Callie Turner was selected as a member of the 2019 USA Softball Junior Women’s National Training Team after a three-day selection process.

Although she doesn’t possess the same background of Abbott, Turner endured a similar emotional roller-coaster.

“It was really nerve-wracking because it was such a huge opportunity that I’d been given and I didn’t want to go there and choke,” Turner admits. “That was my biggest concern. But I really just put my whole effort into training for it to try and feel more comfortable going into it.”

Turner, who hails from Land O’ Lakes, Florida, is ranked No. 15 on the FloSoftball Hot 100 list and was named the 2018 Florida 6A Pitcher of the Year.

After she returned home from the tryouts, Turner waited for the email from USA Softball listing the players who made the team.

Once it arrived in her inbox, Turner scrolled down the screen as quickly as possible trying to find her name. The list was in alphabetical order, and Turner was second from the bottom.

“I kept checking my Apple watch right before the email came because my heart rate was so high,” Turner adds. “It was scary. But once I saw my name, I start crying because I was so happy.”

Turner called her mom at work to share the news.

“She couldn’t tell if I was crying because I was happy I made it or if I was crying because I was disappointed I didn’t make it,” Turner recalls.

“But once I told her I made it, she started screaming to her co-workers, ‘Callie made it! Callie made it!’ They were all very excited as well.”

Turner is eager to gain experience playing with and against some of the top players of her age in the world.

“Mentally and physically, I want to see what I can do against international teams because that is a huge confidence boost if you can compete with them,” Turner says. “I really think that will help me once I get to college and play. I want to experience that type of growth.”

Turner started playing baseball when she was very young and transitioned to softball once her family moved to the Tampa area.

She didn’t follow the college game until the seventh grade when she watched Tennessee play Oklahoma in the 2013 Women’s College World Series. Turner was immediately drawn to Lady Vol All-Americans Raven Chavanne and Lauren Gibson.

“Those are like my biggest idols, especially at that time. I didn’t have anyone else on my mind,” Turner says. “Then, I went to Chattanooga for a tournament going into my freshman year in the summer and the Tennessee coaches came out.

“I was shell shocked to see them. I really wanted to go there, and I can’t wait to start playing for them.”

Abbott set the standard for pitchers at Tennessee with a career for the ages. She graduated as the NCAA career record holder with 189 victories, 2,400 strikeouts and 112 shutouts.

On Team USA, Abbott will be reunited with fellow dominant lefty Cat Osterman. The two were teammates on the 2008 Olympic team that captured a silver medal, and rank No. 1 and 2 on the NCAA career strikeout chart.

Osterman retired entirely from softball in 2015, and became the pitching coach at Texas State. But the 35-year-old announced her comeback last fall for one more run at Olympic glory.

“Having Cat back is great. Getting her back to the Cat Osterman we all know and love is huge for America,” Abbott adds. “It makes Team USA better, and it’s what we need.”

Abbott and Turner never crossed paths in Florida, with the JWNT tryouts ending before the older players arrived. But Abbott is happy to have a future Lady Vol in the Team USA pipeline.

“It’s huge to keep the Tennessee family in there. I love seeing that she is on the team and continuing the Tennessee tradition,” Abbott continues.

“USA Softball athletes have such a unique mindset compared to everyday players, so bringing that mindset to the Tennessee program is huge.”

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