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Watley Makes U.S. Team

September 09, 2003|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

Natasha Watley of Irvine has a lot to live up to as a member of the U.S. women's softball team and prospective Athens Olympian.

The U.S. women's team has won both Olympic tournaments since softball became a medal sport in 1996 and has won the last five world championships and five Pan Am Games titles. But Watley, this year's winner of the Honda Broderick Cup as the women's collegiate athlete of the year at UCLA, is ready for the challenge after surviving a 46-player tryout camp to win one of 18 spots.

"The camp was a little bit stressful, but I'm excited," said Watley, who's taking a year off from school to prepare for the Games. "I'm happy it was a positive outcome."

For that, she credits such veterans as two-time Olympians Lisa Fernandez, Laura Berg, Lori Harrigan and Leah O'Brien-Amico, who also made the roster announced Monday by USA Softball. Three players will be designated alternates in January, when Olympic nominations are submitted.

"The last two summers I played with them and was fortunate to experience how they prepare," said Watley, a shortstop who has played softball since she was 5 or 6. "They've been around and they've opened up a lot of doors."

The roster was chosen after scrimmages last week at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. "It was probably the toughest thing I've ever been involved with," said Mike Candrea, the U.S. coach and coach at the University of Arizona. "With the talent pool being so deep in the U.S., it's always a very difficult decision.... You've got to look for athletic ability, but versatility is a factor too."

Watley, who batted .432 for Team USA this season, fits that description.

"Her speed brings a whole different dimension, and our overall speed is a different dimension than in the past," Candrea said. "Natasha has proven she can be an outstanding leadoff hitter and she's been improving her defense. She has tremendous range."

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