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OU softball: A conversation with Nicole Mendes about Olympics, coronavirus and Sooners' future

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Then-junior center fielder Nicole Mendes runs to third base in the game against UCLA for the national championship June 3, 2019.

Senior outfielder Nicole Mendes wasn’t sure if she’d be ready for the 2020 Olympics. 

With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, the sports world has virtually shut down, leaving athletes across the nation searching for answers. Amid the pandemic, Sooner softball was cut short after 24 games and the 2020 Olympics were postponed until 2021.

The extra time leaves Mendes with a full year of recovery after suffering an anterior crucial ligament injury last fall, and gives her a healthy senior season to fully prepare to compete at the Olympics for the Mexico National Team. 

The Sooners also retained senior pitchers Giselle “G” Juarez and Shannon Saile. They announced they would return for the 2021 season along with Mendes after the NCAA announced spring sports participants would regain a year of eligibility. 

Juarez was battling a bicep injury that limited her to just 6.2 innings last season and Saile was the impromptu ace of the staff, leading the charge with a 1.42 ERA.

The Daily spoke with Mendes to discuss her rehab, the Olympics and the future for the Sooners: 

Q: How have you been staying busy amid the coronavirus?

A: I think that probably others kind of took it lightly. The season was canceled, not only for softball, but for all sports. I know the athletics world kind of really took it more seriously and took notice.

But for me, I think the way that I've been able to pass the time, is really be able to start focusing on my faith, focusing on getting new hobbies and anything to really keep me busy. I still have to do rehab for my knee. So that's still an ongoing process. 

Then there's been a bunch of really amazing videos that have come out on social media, with athletes on many different platforms and they’ve  issued challenges they've shown cooking hacks, so that's been really entertaining to see as well. I think those are kind of different ways that I've been able to stay busy.

Q: How are you able to rehab your knee with everything going on?

A: Yeah, it's difficult. It's hard because I'm at home and I can't really go to the gym that I go to normally because it's closed and I can't go to my trainer because she's closed and so I kind of had to recreate a home gym. 

My mom got some stuff workout wise, some bands and we have some old weights but we don't really have much of a gym so we've had to get creative. 

Q: Is it exciting for a full restart next season with everyone for OU healthy?

A: Yeah. I would say that's true. Our team was kind of depleted a little bit. I was hurt, G (Juarez) was hurt. Rylie Boone, she was a freshman this year but she got hurt early on in Mexico. But man, she's a crazy talent that Sooner Nation is going to love.

There are nagging injuries on the team. We only had 19 players. So I know that that will definitely play in our favor. 

At the start of next year that everyone will be healthy, we'll be ready to go. We'll be motivated because we think to play this year, fired up, and then with the addition of the new freshmen. I think next year's team is going to be a really, really hard force to play. 

Q: What are your thoughts on expanded rosters, and seniors getting to return across the nation?

A: As a senior who gets to return, I am super grateful for the opportunity to play again and finish it on my terms. I know I won't get to play college forever. But the fact that I get to finish out a season and I know when the last game is coming, I'm really really grateful for that opportunity. 

That being said, I know that this is going to be a very, very difficult time for a lot of players. coaches and athletic directors all across the country. This is something that has never happened before.

But I think something that we're going to see from next year from teams all across the country is next year, you're going to see some great softball, not only because teens have already been established, they get to play another year and freshmen get to play with veterans. 

Whenever we finally do get to step on the field and compete, you're gonna see some incredible things. So my prediction for this upcoming year is that it's going to be a struggle and you're going to see some really, really good teams. We’re going to see some really, really good softball.

Q: How are you planning on transitioning into the Olympics next year?

A: It's nice to be able to have a full year to recover from my injury. It'll be nice to have a full year softball under my belt going into the Olympics. Whereas before, I would have had a half- season and I still wouldn't have been 100 percent quite yet.

I'm kind of grateful for the opportunity to have more time to fully heal and build myself back up to the player that I know I can be. So I'm grateful for that.

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