- Terra Molengraff/Daily
By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published June 17, 2012
For former Michigan softball player Amanda Chidester, not being able to go to the Olympics in London this summer would be the only downside of making the U.S. softball national team.
Since softball is no longer an Olympic sport, Team USA wouldn’t be traveling across the pond to compete for gold this summer. But that didn’t deter the slugger from accepting her invitation to try out for the national squad.
Chidester traveled to Ashland, Ohio on June 9, where she joined 19 other players in hopes of earning one of five open spots on Team USA.
Competing against some of the biggest names in softball — including 2012 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Keilani Ricketts and 2012 Women's College World Series MVP Jackie Traina — Chidester would have to play some of the best softball of her career.
So she took the field, enjoyed playing the game and earned a place on the roster. Chidester joins former Michigan ace Jordan Taylor on the squad, marking the first time two Wolverines have been on Team USA together.
Preparing for the big stage
With a short amount of time to prepare for the selection camp, Chidester enlisted numerous people to help her practice.
A few current Michigan softball players trekked to Alumni Field to help their former teammate prepare. Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins and Wolverine assistant Bonnie Tholl were there to help the Allen Park, Mich. native as well. And even Chidester’s brother and dad practiced with her for hours at a time.
“I just had huge support behind me all the way and I had a lot of people help me get ready,” Chidester said.
She also got help from former teammate and current U.S. National team member Jordan Taylor. Taylor and Chidester played together at Michigan from 2008-11, and Taylor was named to the national team last summer, and just finished up a season in a Japanese softball league.
“She was a huge help — helping me out with anything I needed,” Chidester said of Taylor. “Any questions I had I was able to ask her, and coming back and playing together, it was nice to know somebody when I came in.”
But from Hutchins came her best advice.
“Chiddy, you just need to have fun,” Hutchins told her. “That’s when you play your best.”
Four long days
From June 10 to June 13, Chidester and the 19 other athletes competed for the five remaining roster spots.
“Going into the tryout, I was just excited to be there,” Chidester said. “I was so happy that I had the opportunity to be able to be (with) of all the great athletes that got invited. So just being there was just a blast. It was a dream come true to be there.”
But it all wasn’t going to be peachy, and Chidester knew it. Twenty players were competing for just five spots, which made everyone’s chances of making the team that much slimmer.
She did have a few advantages, though.
At Michigan, Chidester was moved all over the field, playing both outfield and infield, and even saw several starts as a catcher. The experience at multiple positions was surely an asset for her, which she knew could help her during tryouts.
“At first (in college) I was listed as a defensive first baseman. When I got (to selection camp) they were like ‘get your gear on, you’re going to go catch,’ ” Chidester said. “So I’m glad that in college Hutchins made me run around like a chicken with its head cut off at all these different positions so it wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to. I experienced it in my four years in college, so coming in there and doing that is something I’ve always done.”
But Chidester was still competing against the best of the best. She even faced one of them — Traina — in the NCAA Super Regional this season, losing both games to the dominating Alabama pitcher.
“A lot of (the other players trying out) were in the College World Series or just big-name people,” she said. “You watch them on TV or you play against them. You kind of get mad because they’re so good and you get competitive. But when you get here you have to like them, because they are good people (and) they are fun to be around. It’s kinda fun, because you get to see a whole new side of them.”
But for her, it just came down to having fun.
“I didn’t worry,” Chidester said. “I knew that all of these players are so great, it’s not in my hands, I can’t control it. I just need to go out there and have fun and live up the experience.”
‘A dream come true’
Chidester wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen on June 13.
She knew that the full, 17-player roster would be released, determining whether or not she’d be a part of Team USA for the upcoming year. She knew her family and friends would be supportive no matter what.
After USA Softball sent out the release with Chidester’s name on the list, she didn’t know exactly how much support she’d be getting.
My Facebook page has just blown up,” Chidester said. “All the people I’ve played with in high school with, in college, my phone has been vibrating off the hook with all these text messages and Twitter, too. It’s just been unreal. There are all these people and how happy they are for me. And the support is huge — it’s amazing.”
Hutchins sent Chidester a text that morning, asking her about the results and congratulating her on making the team and showing support for her former slugger.
Chidester expressed her gratitude to her former coach, attributing the support to the Michigan coaching staff and former Wolverine teammates that have helped her.
“We’ve had great coaches all the way through,” she said. “You can just tell (by) the Michigan family that we’ve created.”
And how did she react to the news?
“Honestly, it’s just unreal,” she said. “A dream come true.”
Note: Team USA will be playing in the Title IX 40th Anniversary Celebration Game against Canada on June 23 and in the World Cup of Softball VII from June 27- July 2 in Oklahoma City. In addition, they will compete in the Canadian Open Fast Pitch International Championship from July 4-9, and at the International Softball Federation (ISF) Women’s World Championship from July 13-22 in Canada. They recently completed two exhibition games against the USA Softball Women’s Elite National Team — the de facto JV team — on June 14, splitting the series. They play two more exhibition games against the Elite National team on June 18.