Heading into last season, Patty Gasso looked to replace the likes of Lauren Chamberlain, Shelby Pendley, and Georgia Casey. Ushering in a new era, the Oklahoma Sooners inked a plethora of talent yet struggled out of the gate. Sporting a 0-2 record to open the season, many began to doubt whether a trip to the Women’s College World Series remained in reach. However, the crop of talent settled in to a rhythm decimating opponents down the stretch. The effort led to a 2016 National Championship — the program’s third — and eventually a No. 1 Preseason Ranking in 2017.

Returning eight starters from the National Championship run, Oklahoma must find replacements for the 143 runs tallied by Erin Miller and well as Kady Self. With a loaded roster, expectations are much different this go around.

Success Starts In The Circle

Over the years, the Sooners have leaned heavily on stellar performances from the pitchers. This upcoming season will be no different as Paige Parker remains one of the best in the business. The lefty compiled a 38-3 record over 47 appearances alongside 36 starts and 32 complete games. Most impressive may be Parker’s ERA which sits at 1.64 over the past two seasons with a career win percentage of 86.9%. Needless to say, with a pitcher like Paige in the circle and a defense with players like Kelsey Arnold backing her up, opponents will continue to struggle putting up runs.

Another lefty and transfer from Missouri, Paige Lowary could very well be the best back-up in the nation. During a 2016 campaign as a Tiger, Lowary made 44 appearances alongisde 31 starts. However, the junior picked up the pace heading into the offseason. Holding opponents scoreless in a three complete game shutouts, Lowary gave up a mere seven hits. She’ll be a nice addition to the roster when the first pitch is thrown out on Thursday.

Tallying Up The Runs

As a freshman, Syndey Romero handled the pressure of her last name combined with the national spotlight exceptionally well. Focusing on “one pitch at a time,” the third baseman totaled 211 at bats. Seeing various pitchers, Romero consistently found success striking out a minimal four times. With 10 homeruns and 14 doubles, expect those numbers to continue to increase with experience.

Really finding a home at the plate, Shay Knighten shined brightly behind poise while delivering some of the biggest swings of the bat last year. Driving in 62 batters, the first baseman emerged from the shade making a name for herself. However, she’s not just an offensive threat. Knighten comprises a part of the impenetrable infield Oklahoma possesses.

Defensive Prowess

Since stepping on to the field in the crimson and cream, Kelsey Arnold has remained a key cog to the defense. Playing shortstop, the now junior has dazzled fans and media alike with play after play. As a freshman in 2015, Arnold was named to the All-Big 12 Defensive Team and repeated her performance as a sophomore. Adding to her accolades, the junior snatched a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honor at the conclusion of the 2016 season.

But, she’s not just a defensive player. Often times, the fastest player on the roster — in this case it appears to be Arnold — shoulders the task of manufacturing a run or two. Behind a 93.8% success rate on stolen bases, the infielder has proven valubale on the offensive side of the equation. Yet, Arnold continues to anchor a stout defense looking for back-to-back National Championships.