Oklahoma Softball is used to making headlines. The Sooners have been living in the spotlight since winning the national title in 2016. Last June they upped their national coverage when they hoisted the trophy at the Women’s College World Series for the second time in as many years and their fourth time since the turn of the century. There’s no denying that Patty Gasso has developed a dynasty down in Norman.
The back-to-back defending champions were picked preseason to win the Big 12 Conference…again, have five ladies on the watch list for National Player of the Year and are the consensus #1 team in the nation as the season approaches. How’s that for a great January?
Possibly the most impressive thing about Oklahoma’s two-year run at the WCWS is that youth of the team. Patty Gasso is winning championships with underclassmen! Star pitchers Paige Parker and Paige Lowary are just now seniors. They’re the kind of players that opponents feel have been around for a decade because of the dominance established early in their careers.
Parker was only a sophomore when she led the Sooners to a title in 2016 and now she’ll try to go out as a three-time champ. She has the supporting cast to do so as well. Caleigh Clifton and Shay Knighten are only juniors and have more experience at the highest level than most seniors around the nation.
Still though, you’ve got to do something different with your roster to keep winning. Attrition is a natural part of the sport and the players you replace seniors with must be ready to deliver and pay immediate dividends. One of the new faces in Oklahoma’s lineup this spring is not only ready to deliver, she literally strikes fear in the hearts of her veteran teammates.
“As a pitcher, she probably hits the ball harder than anybody I’ve ever faced,” Parker told the media last week. She was talking about true freshman Jocelyn Alo. A native of Hauula, Hawaii, Alo was a two-time Gatorade State High School Player of the Year. She knows a thing or two…or three about winning championships as well. In fact her high school career featured three state titles and she was named the tournament MVP after going 2-3 with a home run and four runs batted in during the 2016 title game.
“It’s scary how strong that girl is,” Knighten said of her new teammate. “With a righty up I’m not normally scared someone is going to drill one at me,” Clifton added, “and I am with Jocelyn. Like, she hits it hard…every pitch.”
“All the pitchers are like, ‘I don’t want to throw to her. You guys can.’” Paige Lowary said. Keep in mind, these aren’t junior college athletes making an adjustment to a higher level of competition. These are seasoned veterans, with multiple national championships, talking about a true freshman.
“I don’t want to compare her to any of the greats but I will and she can swing it in a way like Loren Chamberlain,” Gasso said of Alo. “Maybe as a freshman, she maybe has more power. What we’re thinking about now is throwing her out there in the leadoff spot just like we used to do with Lauren Chamberlain and say welcome to Sooner Softball 2018.”
The Sooners get their season underway at the GCU Kickoff Tournament, in Phoenix, AZ, this weekend. They’ll play five games, starting with Weber State and Grand Canyon, on Friday.