Star-Bulletin Sports


U.S. pitcher Lisa Fernandez is one of six players on the team who has played in the Olympics. The U.S. begins a tournament at Rainbow Wahine Stadium tomorrow at 10 a.m. against Canada.

Veteran Dominator

Fernandez leads
Team USA by example

Who plays when

By Jason Kaneshiro

It wasn't so long ago that Lisa Fernandez's value to the United States national softball team was measured in strikeouts and a minuscule earned run average.

But with 11 new players taking the field for Team USA at this weekend's U.S. Cup at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium, her greatest asset to the squad will be the experience that comes with two Olympic gold medals.

"My role on this team is just to lead by example and to try to show these kids coming up what this game is all about," Fernandez said after the team's workout at UH yesterday. "They're incredibly talented, I don't think they're going to need Lisa Fernandez to win another gold medal, but I think Lisa Fernandez can add to their confidence and to their character on how to play USA softball."

Along with her leadership, Fernandez will contribute the skills that have made her one of the sport's most dominant players when Team USA takes on the world's best in the second annual U.S. Cup tomorrow through Sunday.

The U.S. opens the tournament against Canada at 10 tomorrow morning and returns to face Japan at 3 p.m. Australia plays China at noon and Canada at 5 p.m. in the opening day's other games.

The tournament continues Friday with the U.S. playing Australia at 7 p.m. Team USA faces China at 5 p.m. Saturday to close round-robin play. The bronze medal game is at 1 p.m. Sunday with the gold medal game to follow at 3 p.m.

Japan finished second to the U.S. at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney with Australia taking the bronze medal. China won the silver in 1996, and Canada is consistently ranked among the world's top five teams.

U.S. pitcher Lisa Fernandez during a workout at the UH Rainbow Wahine Stadium

The squads are using this week's tournament as a tune-up for the International Softball Federation Women's World Championship set for July 25 to August 4 in Saskatoon, Canada.

The world championships serve as the qualifying tournament for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The champion will be the top seed in the Olympics.

"Every week that we're together is big," Team USA coach Mike Candrea said. "The more we play together and work together, the sooner we can start playing to our capabilities. So this week is huge.

"It's also a benchmark for us. It gives us an idea of where we're at and what we need to do to get where we want to go."

Fernandez, one of just six players on the team with Olympic experience, has been the benchmark for softball players around the world for more than a decade.

She was a four-time All-American at UCLA, where she compiled a career record of 93-7. She led the nation in both hitting and pitching in 1993 with a .510 batting average and a 0.25 earned run average.

She posted a 0.47 ERA in the 2000 Games and earned complete-game wins in both the semifinal and gold medal games. She also set an Olympic record with 25 strikeouts in an extra-inning contest against Australia.

Fernandez threw a two-hit shutout against the Women's Professional Softball League All-Stars in her last appearance in Hawaii in 2000 as part of a pre-Olympic tour. Earlier in the tour, she tossed five consecutive perfect games, including one in which she struck out all 21 batters she faced.

At 31, she already has a line of Louisville Slugger bats and a field in Lakewood, Calif., named after her.

And playing beside a softball icon has already proven educational for some of Team USA's newcomers.

"As a young girl watching her pitch and now being able to have her on your team and picking her brain about the game is great," said pitcher Jennie Finch, who just completed an All-American career at Arizona. "What she brings to the field every day, the excitement, is just amazing."

Said Candrea: "The thing she provides along with her talents is her approach to the game and her passion for the game and being the role model you want young kids to see.

"Lisa works very hard at this game and it's no secret why she's been as good as she's been. I think it's huge to have someone like that for the younger kids to look up and say that's the standard you need to follow."

Just as playing with a softball legend is a thrill for her teammates, Fernandez is eager to watch some of the young stars in action.

"It's exciting for me to see the new group of kids coming up in this day and age and see who's going to continue the legacy of what USA softball is all about," she said.

"It amazing to see these kids coming up and the full package they have. Not only do they have the speed, but they have the power. They can hit it 220 feet or they can put down the perfect bunt and beat it out. That's someone like a (outfielder) Jessica Mendoza and a (shortstop) Natasha Watley."

While Fernandez is focused on softball this week, she does have other matters on her mind.

She is to marry Michael Lujan on Aug. 9, just five days after the gold medal game at the world championships. And the timing of the wedding, two years before the 2004 Olympics, is no accident.

"As an Olympic athlete you spend your life in four-year intervals," Fernandez said. "The minute '96 was over, we started thinking about 2000, and the minute 2000 was over, we started thinking about 2004.

"From my wedding to the planning of my future family, it all relates to what we want to become and that's Olympic athletes and, potentially, gold medalists."


U.S. Cup softball


All games at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium

USA vs. Canada, 10 a.m.; China vs. Australia, noon; USA vs. Japan, 3 p.m.; Canada vs. Australia, 5 p.m.

Australia vs. Japan, noon; Canada vs. China, 2 p.m.; China vs. Japan, 5 p.m.; USA vs. Australia, 7 p.m.

Canada vs. Japan, 3 p.m.; USA vs. China, 5 p.m.; Fifth-place game, 7 p.m.

Bronze medal game, 1 p.m.; Gold medal game, 3 p.m.


$5 for adults, $3 for students.

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