The U.S. softball team was down a run heading into the bottom of the sixth inning in Sunday’s gold medal game of the USA Softball International Cup in Columbus, Ga. U.S. pitcher Ally Carda had just come off the mound, fending off the big bats of rival Japan, as the Americans attempted to defend their title during the first major tournament of the year.
Then, according to one player, the team heard an announcement: The U.S. women’s national soccer team had won its second consecutive World Cup title, defeating the Netherlands, 2-0, in Sunday’s championship match an ocean away.
The Americans loaded the bases in the next half-inning, and they scored the two runs they needed to join their soccer counterparts in hoisting a trophy. Haylie McCleney, a two-time world champion who hit the sacrifice fly that brought in the winning run, said hearing the announcement gave the team “a little bit of good-luck USA mojo.”
“Being on Team USA — no matter what sport you’re playing — if you have those three letters across your chest, I think gold is the standard,” McCleney said in a phone interview. “And winning every event that you play in is the standard. The women’s national soccer team has set the bar really high for female sports as a whole, and we adopt that same standard. We go out and we’re expecting to win every game.”
The U.S. women’s world domination Sunday went even further. Hours earlier in Nanjing, China, the U.S. women’s volleyball team rallied from a two-set deficit to beat Brazil and defend its FIVB Volleyball Nations League championship. The three tournament finals — for volleyball, soccer and softball — fell on the same day for the first time. All were won by the defending champions. And all were won by American women.
“I think it’s a really powerful moment for women and women in sports,” said Kelsey Robinson, a starting outside hitter for the U.S. volleyball team. “It’s a cool feeling to have all three teams win on the same day. And then to see on social media all of my female friends posting about these teams winning and saying it’s a great day for women in sports — it’s just a really cool feeling to be a part of that.”
While the World Cup is the marquee event in women’s soccer, softball’s International Cup and volleyball’s VNL tournament are not official world championships. All three events, however, featured the world’s best competition; the Japanese softball team is ranked second in the world, and Brazil is a perennial power.
The VNL championship was preceded by weeks of preliminary rounds in which three matches were played each week. Once the U.S. team qualified for the finals, it traveled to Nanjing and defeated Poland, Brazil and China before facing Brazil again in the championship match. The U.S. women dropped the first two sets but rallied to win the final three, claiming the trophy and $1 million in prize money.
“It was grueling,” said Annie Drews, who had a match-high 33 points in Sunday’s title game. “Overall, it’s seven weeks and 15 games in preliminaries, and then you want to earn your way in. It was a long road."
On the other side of the world, the softball team competed in the International Cup — previously called the World Cup of Softball — an annual tournament hosted by the United States. Many participating teams use the event to prepare for high-level competition before the Pan American Games. The U.S. team qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by beating Japan in the Women’s Softball World Championship in August.
Still, the team’s 2-1 win Sunday was the latest victory in an ongoing battle against Japan for international supremacy. The final event of the week-long tournament was televised on the networks of ESPN, with four games (against Chinese Taipei, Japan, Mexico and Puerto Rico) leading up to the championship, which aired on ESPN2.
“With the Women’s World Cup going on, I think it shows us how many eyes can be on women’s events at one time,” McCleney said. “It’s really cool to see people following the events so closely. They would tweet at us and tweet at, you know, an Alex Morgan back-to-back. It was just cool to see. We were rooting for them.”
The Women’s World Cup attracted an estimated 1 billion viewers worldwide, according to FIFA, with the Fox broadcast of the final averaging 14.3 million. Morgan, a forward, reaches 15.3 million followers on her social media accounts, according to the BBC, and official FIFA digital channels gained 2 million followers through the first weeks of the tournament, according to the organization.
Following both teams’ wins, McCleney and her teammates recorded a video congratulating the soccer team on its title, which was posted on USA Softball’s Twitter account. “Let’s gooooo!” players screamed in the video, while the post was captioned, “From one reigning World Championship team to another, congratulations to the @USWNT on your second-straight World Cup title.”
The cameras at both events captured similarly euphoric American fans, cheering on title-winning teams in different time zones but wearing the same colors. As the softball team took the lead in Georgia, fans started a “U-S-A!” chant around the same time that another cheer was ringing out in France: “Equal pay!”
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