CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – A pair of Virginia softball players will take the international stage on Sunday (June 27) as current infielder Arizona Ritchie and former catcher/utility player Oliva Gott will compete with the Israeli National Team at the European Championship in Italy.
The competition runs June 27 – July 3 and the games serve as the qualifiers for the 2022 World Games that will be played in Birmingham, Alabama. For the European Games, teams are divided into four pools. The winner of the championship will claim the qualifying spot as one of eight teams in the World Games next summer.
“The opportunity to play for Israel has a lot of layers to it, all of which I am grateful for,” Ritchie said. “First, there’s the fact I get to lean into my culture and heritage, and learn about where I come from. Religion has always brought my family together, so being able to represent Judaism and where my people come from has been an unreal experience that I still struggle to grasp. When I put on the jersey, I’m not only representing Israel – I’m representing the Jewish community, my family, those that came before me and the softball community.
“On top of that, we get to play for a championship on the international stage,” Ritchie continued. “Competing for a championship is always a special experience, but when it encompasses your faith that’s something different. Finally, my team and I get to be a part of expanding the game of softball around the world and especially in Israel.”
Ritchie just completed her junior campaign with the Cavaliers, finishing second on the team in RBI with 18. She hit at a .222 clip for the year after starting all 46 games she played and scored 12 runs. The junior infielder drove in the game-winning run for the Cavaliers in the 12th inning against Boston College, clinching the series win for Virginia. She also drove in a season-high three runs in the series finale against Pittsburgh to help clinch that series victory.
“There’s a lot that comes with being able to play softball for Team Israel,” Gott said. “When I was presented with the opportunity, I felt like it was the perfect way in which I could end my softball career the way I wanted to. I didn’t exactly go out with a bang my senior year at Virginia, and that’s ok. The game ends for everyone and it almost always ends not in the way we want. I felt like this allows me to play loose, have fun and fall in love with the game again. I get to rewrite my ending.”
Gott, who graduated in 2019 after a four-year career with the Cavaliers, hit .244 for her career with 64 RBI and 55 runs scored through 161 games played. She finished her career with 17 multiple-RBI games and 19 multiple-hit games. Gott played with the Israeli National Team in 2019 and will be making her second appearance with the team at the European Championships. She helped the team to a ninth-place finish in that championship, the best finish ever for Israel in the event.
“It’s important for people to understand that sports in general is not really as big of a deal in Israel as it is in the United States,” Gott continued. “When people see us walking around the city of Tel Aviv with Israel Softball apparel, they’re confused. They don’t know what it is, so we’re left to explain it to them. And that’s ok. It humbles us and puts things in perspective.
“This team is here to qualify for the Olympics (in 2024), but along the way in doing that our mission is to grow the game of softball in Israel. To set a new standard for the girls that play here year round and show them what we know, teach them basic fundamentals they were never taught and help increase their softball IQ. It becomes bigger than myself and, honestly, way bigger than the team. It’s about giving back to the sport and paving the way for players that come after me. It’s about creating a new standard. It’s about putting Israel softball on the map.”
Ritchie echoed that sentiment of Gott and pointed out how great it was to be connected with her former teammate again. The two played one season together in Charlottesville.
“Softball and sports in general aren’t nearly as big as they are in America, so to be a part of building it up is an experience that educates you and gives you perspective. We get to help put a spotlight on the sport in Israel and improve the game.
“The fact I get to play with Liv is surreal. It shows how the softball community and Jewish community are able to come together and create connections for life. It’s cool to look back and see how much we’ve both grown since she was a senior and I was a freshman. I’m beyond excited to compete with Team Israel and I have so much pride in wearing the blue and white. I’m grateful for it all.”