Coaches From Foothill-Pleasanton And Merced High Tell Tales Of Valerie Arioto And Bubba Nickles — Part Of Five NorCal Natives Powering USA Softball’s Quest For Gold •
TOP IMAGE: Valerie Arito (USA Softball photo)
Of all the U.S. National Teams competing in the Tokyo Summer Olympics, perhaps none feel more urgency than the USA Softball team.
After losing the gold medal game to Japan in the 2008 Games, its sport was removed from the next two Olympiads in London and Rio. Now softball is back — but not to stay. The sport will not be part of the Paris games in 2024. It will likely be included as part of the Los Angeles games in 2028, but how many of these players can afford to wait seven more years?
Most won’t, especially the few veterans in their 30s who have stuck it out to make it to these games. This is their shot at gold.
And of all the U.S. National Teams competing in Tokyo, none provide a bigger rooting interest for NorCal fans. One third of the USA Softball’s 15-player roster features graduates from Northern California high schools. That includes two members of the team’s veteran core we mentioned earlier: Monica Abbott, a 2003 grad of North Salinas High, and Valerie Arioto a 2007 grad of Foothill High in Pleasanton.
There’s also 2011 Pleasant Grove High grad Ally Carda of Elk Grove, 2013 Casa Roble High grad Ali Aguilar of Orangevale and 2016 Merced High grad Bubba Nickles.
We caught up with former coaches of both Arioto and Nickles and asked them to share memories and stories of the two softball stars. Which player would hold her own personal practice for more than an hour after the team’s ended? Which one snapped at her coach after being pinch run for?
Time to find out.
Matt Sweeney, Foothill-Pleasanton Softball Coach (2006-Present)
Scott Kabrich, Foothill-Pleasanton Softball Coach (1990-2005)
Bart McAfee, Merced Softball Coach (2003-2016)
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• SportStories Podcast, Episode 11: Olympians Pt. 2, featuring coaches from Sacred Heart Prep-Atherton and Monte Vista-Danville sharing memories of USA Soccer defender Abby Dahlkemper (SHP ’11) and USA Water Polo’s Maggie Steffens (Monte Vista ’11).