USA Softball

Feb 28 This is a real dream team

Feb. 28, 2004, 2 p.m. (ET)
This is a real dream team
 
Posted on Sat, Feb. 28, 2004 - Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
Contact Troy Johnson at (706) 320-4432 or johnsont@ledger-enquirer.com
 
This is a real dream team.
 
Forget all this nonsense about Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter.
 
They will almost certainly win gold this summer at the Athens Olympics, but that's no big shock. Multi-millionaire NBA stars are supposed to be able to dunk down the gullets of emaciated power forwards from the Ivory Coast with impunity.
 
But don't believe their Dream Team hype.
These guys are posers, impostors really.
The real U.S. Olympic Dream Team plays softball.
 
"We're the Unknown Dream Team," said pitcher Lori Harrigan, a member of the United States' gold medal teams of 1996 and 2000.
 
If you're not convinced, buy a ticket to the NFCA Leadoff Classic today and watch Team USA's exhibition games against an Army select team and a 21st-ranked Arizona State squad.
 
You will see domination, the sort usually delivered by the Harlem Globetrotters against its clumsy, erstwhile foils, the Washington Generals. In this case, however, the opponents will actually be trying to win.
 
But it won't matter. The only way the college kids would have a real chance is if the U.S. team was generous enough to spot them a 5-run lead. That's how much of a mismatch these exhibitions have become. It's tantamount to scheduling a football game between the New England Patriots and Eddy Middle School.
 
Team USA has won 122 straight pre-Olympic warm-up games dating back to May, 1996, when it lost to a California Select team that might have been good enough to contend for a medal in Columbus.
 
In the early stages of its "Aiming for Athens" tour, Team USA has faced some of the top young talents in the country in exhibitions against seventh-ranked Alabama, eight-ranked Stanford, 12th-ranked Tennessee, 12th-ranked Michigan, 18th-ranked Oregon State, as well as teams from Notre Dame and Virginia Tech.
 
The result? A 7-0 record by a combined margin of 63-5.
That's not to say the U.S. national team hasn't experienced a few tests on the way to its warm-up for a third consecutive Olympic gold medal. In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the Americans saw an 112-game winning streak end in pool play. They lost three consecutive games, but stormed back to win the gold.
 
"Standing on the medal stand was a completely different feeling (than in 1996)," Team USA first baseman Leah O'Brien-Amico said. "Obviously, we had the same joy, but I think there was just a relief. At the same time, I think it was awesome because we really were tested to see what we were made of."
The end of such a long winning streak also did something that will undoubtedly hurt the gold medal aspirations of fellow softball powers Australia, Japan and China this summer. It made the U.S. angry.
 
In gearing up for these Games, U.S. head coach Mike Candrea has assembled a team of overpowering pitchers and complete hitters.
 
"I've been on the team since '92 and every year people say this is the best team they've ever seen," Harrigan said. "This team, definitely with the mixture of young people, is the most powerful team. We have speed, we have slapping (contact hitting), we have long-ball hitting."
 
Do they ever. In Team USA's 12-0 romp over Virginia Tech Friday night, third baseman Crystl Bustos drove a home run out of South Commons Stadium. The ball, which traveled an estimated 315 feet, cleared the temporary outfield fence erected for the Leadoff Classic as well as the taller permanent fence set almost 80 feet beyond it.
 
After the ball left Bustos' bat in the third inning, Virginia Tech pitcher Katie Maynard turned around to track the majestic flight of something that should have required FAA clearance.
 
She smiled and quickly began convulsing with laughter.  It was a gesture of awe and surrender.
 
It's reasonable to suspect the U.S. team will be greeted with a few more in Athens this summer.
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