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It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime kind of 2008 for Amber and Beth Walker of Galax. And it continues to be so.
What has been a whirlwind spring and summer continues this week as both Walkers will be on hand and in uniform Thursday at Kiwanis Field in Salem to battle Team USA once again as the Olympians make their second-to-last exhibition on American soil before heading overseas for the 2008 Summer Games.
It is the third appearance in Salem for Team USA, which made stops in 2001 and 2004. Sold out for close to a month, Thursday’s game is set to start just after 7 p.m. The three-time Olympic gold medal winners will face a collection of local and regional athletes before heading to the West Coast for one last stop on its Bound 4 Beijing Tour.
Including the Walkers, Virginia Tech will have four representatives on the field, although none is named Angela Tincher. The James River High School graduate and collegiate all-America, now playing professionally for the Akron Racers, was unable to work the exhibition into her schedule. The all-stars will have three-time Big South pitcher of the year Ashley Taylor of Radford University in the circle. Virginia Tech head coach Scot Thomas will direct the team.
The game will cap what has been a dream of a year for the Walkers. In a remarkable stretch beginning in March, the Galax High School products and current Virginia Tech softball players experienced an almost-unheard-of win over the United States Olympic Team, a second straight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship, an NCAA tournament run that included a Regional win at Tennessee and a Super Regional triumph at Michigan, culminating in a trip to the NCAA Women’s College World Series. The Hokies (49-19) bowed out after two games but still finished the season with a best-ever No. 8 ranking in both major national polls.
“I still can’t believe we beat the Olympic team and went to the World Series in the same year,” said Beth Walker, the starting first baseman for the Hokies this past spring. “I still can’t believe it. But at the same time I can believe it because we were such a good team to play together. We had such good camaraderie. Just playing as a team brought us to the World Series, because there was no drama [on the team] whatsoever.”
Beth played the first six innings in Tech’s 1-0 upset of Team USA in March while Amber got a pinch hit appearance in the final inning of that game. The younger Walker is looking forward to having more of an opportunity Thursday.
“I am, just to see maybe a different pitcher,” she said. “And it’s good experience, because they’re the best in the world.”
While realistic chances of an upset Thursday are slim at best, nobody gave the Hokies much of a chance back in March, either. Still, as one of two catchers on the initial roster, alongside UVa.’s Kelly Haller of Leesburg, Amber Walker is approaching this outing in much the same fashion as four months ago.
“I’m going to go out with the attitude to beat them, but just to have fun at the same time,” she said. “I think we can be competitive because we’re all Division I athletes and we know what to do to get the job done as a team.”
Beth has already experienced a pretty good taste of success against the world’s best.
“I want to have the same expectations,” she said, “but at the same time I did get two hits off of them, so the worst I could do is go 0-for-2 and be batting .500 against the Olympic team. I’m not too worried about it.”
Whatever their personal goals for the game are, the girls seem to know why they are there.
“You want to go out and have fun but you also want to have the attitude to go out and win,” Beth Walker said. “You want to make them better because they’re going to be playing better teams, and they want us to want to beat them.”
“We’ve got the same attitude that we had before the [March] game,” Amber said, “just go out and play hard. It’s almost like a once-in-a lifetime thing.
“Well, twice in a lifetime.”