The last time softball took place on the Olympic stage, Valerie Arioto was just 19 years old, fresh off of her first season as a Bear. Already, the rookie had nabbed a spot on the All-Pac-10 second team, accumulated more than 100 strikeouts and was awarded the title of Team MVP. Though what would become a remarkable career was just getting started, Arioto watched 2008’s Olympic softball with perhaps a sense of dejection — three years earlier, the International Olympic Committee had voted to drop baseball and softball from the Olympic program for 2012.
And it’s a shame that they did.
Arioto went on to complete four fantastic seasons at Cal, a massive threat both on the mound and at the plate. In addition to being both a National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American and an All-Pac-12 first-team selection in each of her final three seasons, the slugger was named the 2012 Pac-12 Player of the Year and was one of the three finalists for USA Softball Player of the Year after missing the entirety of 2011’s play with a leg injury.
Back and better than ever come spring 2012, Artioto collected 50 hits (23 of which were home runs) and drew 94 walks while going 20-2 with a 1.22 ERA to lead the Bears to a Pac-12 conference title and the No. 1 overall seed in the 2012 NCAA tournament. Though the blue and gold ultimately ended up falling just short of making the Women’s College World Series final, Arioto was no doubt the centerpiece of Cal’s success.
“Val being back has made an incredible difference,” said teammate Jace Williams in an interview halfway through Arioto’s final season. “Sometimes I wonder if college softball is even fun for Val because she’s so good.”
While it certainly looked like Arioto was having fun during her time at Levine-Fricke Field, in case she wasn’t, the All-American got a taste of international play with Team USA during the 2011 World Cup of Softball. Arioto started all six games for the United States, pacing the squad with 11 RBIs to help bring home gold. She’s been an integral part of the team ever since, and now, a decade later, “Olympian” can be added to her already extraordinary resume.
“During the whole 10-year process, I never thought, ‘I am doing this to play in the Olympics,’ ” Arioto said in an interview with softball great Jessica Mendoza this past April. “I am just so honored to represent (Team) USA, and I loved doing it. My teammates were amazing, so I just kept going.”
Though there has been a lot of turnover for Team USA since Arioto’s debut, the now-veteran speaks to the standard of excellence and bond that has remained regardless of who is on the roster.
“I’ve learned from every single one of my teammates no matter how many years they’ve been on the team,” Arioto said. “We all bring some type of leadership in our own way. It’s really special.”
After going undefeated in the round-robin portion, Team USA fell 2-0 to host Japan in the gold medal match. Arioto batted cleanup for the United States in all six games and went 3-for-17 in the tournament.
Although disappointed to settle for silver after a decade of patience, there is no doubt Arioto has a heart of gold that will continue to inspire the softball community for years to come.