Osterman, Popovich earn sportswoman award

Updated: October 17, 2005, 8:45 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Olympic softball pitcher Cat Osterman, who led her team to a gold medal in Athens, is the Women's Sports Foundation's Sportswoman of the Year.

Paralympic gold-medal swimmer Erin Popovich won in the individual category Monday.

The U.S. softball team was so dominant that it outscored opponents 51-1 en route to its third straight Olympic gold in 2004. Then in July, the International Olympic Committee voted to drop softball and baseball from the Olympics after 2008.

Osterman, who pitched 14 2/3 scoreless innings in Athens, said she was crushed by the news and will fight to get softball back.

"It was a heartbreaker," she said. "None of us expected it. It was devastating for our sport because it was on the rise. We're in a fight to get it reinstated right now. We do feel very confident in that fight."

Osterman's immediate goal is to add an NCAA ring to go with her gold medal.

She guided the No. 4 Longhorns to a 49-13 record this summer and a third-place finish in the Women's College World Series. Texas has finished third in two of the last three seasons.

The 22-year-old enters her senior season 138 strikeouts shy of the all-time NCAA career record (1,773). The left-hander led the nation with a 0.36 ERA, finished 30-7 and averaged an NCAA-best 15.2 strikeouts a game on the strength of a nasty drop ball.

"It seems like it starts at the waist and ends right below the knees," said her father, Gary.

As a freshman, Osterman pitched the first perfect game in Longhorn history and by midseason of her sophomore year she had erased the Texas strikeout record.

Osterman had a recent broadcasting stint on ESPN2 during a National Pro Fastpitch game featuring Olympic teammate Jennie Finch of the Chicago Bandits. But her real love is coaching, and she's helping out with an under-16 team in Austin.

"That has been my number one career option since I was 8 or 9," she said. "It kind of runs in my family. I have aunts, uncles and grandparents that were all coaches. I love teaching. I just love seeing their faces light up when they finally get something."

The 20-year-old Popovich, of Butte, Mont., grew up in a sports family. Her older brother played soccer and her sister competed in equestrienne.

Popovich won gold in all seven swimming events she entered at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. She is short for her age because of a genetic disorder affecting bone growth.

Popovich won five individual golds, and added two more in the relays, setting numerous world, U.S. and Paralympic records. She won three golds at the Sydney Olympics and plans to compete in Beijing in 2008.

"As I look at it, there's still four more world records I can achieve," Popovich said.

She said her victories were not as dominating as they seemed.

"It always comes down to the wire," Popovich said, laughing. "There's always somebody staring me down the last 10 yards or so."

Former Delta State basketball star Lusia Harris-Stewart, two-time Olympic gold medalist Katarina Witt and Fresno State coach Margie Wright were inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame.

The Women's Sports Foundation, founded by Billie Jean King, hosted the 26th annual awards dinner at the Waldorf Astoria on Monday night. The dinner raises more than $1 million annually for education and grant programs for girls and women in sports.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press