Ranked No. 1 again, the Oklahoma Sooners are preparing to embark on one of the hardest tasks in sports: winning the title again.
Behind the most explosive offense in NCAA softball history, the Sooners captured their fifth National Championship at the Women’s College World Series last June. The core of the offense is returning as the Sooners really only lost three major contributors from the title winning squad, which means they’ll have to fight against complacency in 2022.
And while Patty Gasso has experience guiding teams to back-to-back titles, as she did in 2016 and 2017, she said she won’t truly know if this team is ready to climb the mountain again until the games get rolling.
“It's interesting because I think different teams approach it differently,” Gasso said during her preseason Zoom press conference on Thursday. “Once you win it, you have maybe two choices of thought.”
“I won it, I got it, it'll never go away, I'll have it forever, and I'm good. Or that tasted so well, that was so such a wow factor in my world, that makes me hungry for more. Like the taste of winning the being called the best is something that is almost like a drug that you just want more, you want more, you want more.”
Gasso said she’s experienced players with both feelings during her time at Oklahoma, and she’s still working to gauge where the 2022 team sits coming into the season.
“The whole goal here from my side, and I'm thinking what would I feel like if a coach is telling me this and I'm an athlete,” said Gasso. “If my coach told me you could be the greatest softball team of all time, that would make me want to play hard. That would get me fired up.
“Every player is different. So I think I'm anxious to see what this looks like when we put it out there because then I can really decipher where we're at. But right now we're just we're grind and we're working really hard to get prepared for the start.”
Thankfully for Gasso, a large part of last year’s core leadership group will be retuning to help guide OU through the 2022 slate.
Last year’s USA Softball Player of the Year, Jocelyn Alo, is back for her final season at Oklahoma, where should could not only win another National Championship, but leave as the all-time home run leader in NCAA history.
Tiare Jennings, the 2021 NFCA Freshman of the Year, returns alongside fellow freshman standouts Jayda Coleman and Nicole May, and All-Americans Kinzie Hansen and Grace Lyons are also back in 2022.
Lynssie Elam, who split time with Hansen at catcher and was voted a team captain, is back as well to help bring along some of the younger additions to the team.
On top of the returning stars, Oklahoma was also aggressive in adding talent both on the recruiting trail and in the transfer portal. Hope Trautwein joined OU as a graduate transfer from North Texas, and All-Pac 12 Freshman Team selection Alyssa Brito transferred from Oregon to Norman to help add another bat to the fold.
The Sooners also added the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country, pitcher Jordyn Bahl, meaning there will still be plenty of competition within the team just to crack the starting lineup, much less chase more hardware in the summer.
“The portal has been good to many teams,” Gasso said. “We don't try to live off of it. We try to supplement what we have. And I think we've done a good job of that.”
Though Alo enters the season just eight home runs shy of breaking former OU star Lauren Chamberlain’s home run record, the Sooner slugger said she’s solely focused on accomplishing one thing this year.
“I want to win again,” Alo said during a Zoom press conference on Thursday. “It'd be nice to be the last team standing.
“… Honestly I’m just here to enjoy my last year… I really won't ever get this again. Like I won't get to grind the same way that they pushed me to. I won't get to play for these coaches again. I won't get to play with this team again. I won't get to wear Sooners across my chest again. So just kind of here to enjoy every moment.”
Oklahoma’s title defense will get going on Feb. 10, as OU will travel to the West Coast to once again test themselves with a challenging non-conference slate.
Up first, OU will visit UC Santa Barbara, and first pitch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 10.
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