Hovinga Chasing Olympic Dreams
Karissa Hovinga's dream is still alive. The new Athletes Unlimited softball league might help her realize it.
Hovinga is in Illinois with three other alumnae of the Oregon softball team as they ramp up preparations for opening day of the inaugural Athletes Unlimited season Saturday. Hovinga is joined by her former UO teammates Janie Takeda Reed and Gwen Svekis, as well as 2018 senior DJ Sanders.
A native of Nebraska who has dual citizenship because her mother was born in Edmonton, Hovinga is in the player pool for Canada's national team roster for the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. That's the carrot that keeps her playing competitive softball, five years after Hovinga made her third and final Women's College World Series appearance as a senior with the Ducks in 2015.
"Honestly," Hovinga said, "I have to pinch myself that I even have that opportunity."
From 2012-15 at Oregon, Hovinga went 45-6 in the circle with a 2.36 ERA. She helped the 2012 team get Oregon back to the WCWS for the first time in 23 years, and in 2013 the Ducks won their first of four straight Pac-12 championships.
Hovinga majored in business administration at Oregon, with an emphasis in finance. Ultimately, she hopes to run her own business, and perhaps stay connected with softball by offering private lessons.
But as long as a shot at the Olympics with Team Canada remains viable, Hovinga is going to chase it. So after leaving Eugene, she spent two years as a graduate manager at Minnesota — she studied in the sports management graduate degree program there — before working the last two years in a volunteer assistant role at Stanford.
Working as a coach has provided invaluable experiences for Hovinga. But as much as anything, it also facilitated her schedule playing with Team Canada, and for a Canadian team in the National Pro Fastpitch league last summer.
Playing with Athletes Unlimited beginning this weekend provides the chance for Hovinga to stay sharp as she eyes next year's Summer Olympics. A pool of 20 players is competing for the 15 spots on Team Canada for the Tokyo Games, and Hovinga is one of six pitchers who will compete to make the roster for 2021.
Athletes Unlimited held its opening ceremonies Monday, followed by exhibition games Monday and Tuesday as the season opener Saturday approaches. Regular-season games will be telecast or streamed by ESPN and CBS Sports.
"Especially right now, given the pandemic, there's not a lot of meaningful game reps to be found around the world," Hovinga said. "To have the opportunity to play in this league, to play with some of the best players in the world and to continue to just play the game, it's a big edge."
Athletes Unlimited is a league made up of 56 players who will be drafted into four teams on a weekly basis for a schedule of games running through the end of September. The final standings will be determined not by ranking the four teams' wins and losses, but by ranking all 56 players based on their success individually, both on how they fare statistically and how their teams fare while they're on the roster.
Teams will be drafted by leading players in the league standings, and coaching decisions will be up to the players. It's a new model that may take some adjusting to for players and fans alike.
"As a pitcher, a lot of success rides on the camaraderie you have with your catchers," Hovinga offered as an example. "I'm throwing to a lot of catchers I've never pitched to, so that's going to be an adjustment. But so far in bullpens, it's been really fun."
For Hovinga, every outing over the next several weeks will be a chance to continue honing her craft. One eye, as always, will be on Tokyo in 2021.
"I think I learn about myself every time I go out there," Hovinga said. "More about pitching, more about how my body works, more about what I need to do to be successful. It's always small adjustments, day to day."