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Puerto Vallarta College Challenge Preview, How to Watch as Oklahoma Kicks Off 2024 Season

The No. 1-ranked Sooners begin their national title defense with a pair of contests on Thursday in Mexico.

The long road back to Oklahoma City begins south of the border for Oklahoma.

Patty Gasso’s No. 1-ranked Sooners, the three time defending national champions, open their title defense at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge Thursday with a pair of games.

First, OU will meet Utah Valley at 10:30 a.m. before turning around to take on No. 11 Duke at 1 p.m.

Throughout the weekend, Oklahoma will also see No. 7 Washington and Long Beach State, but all of Gasso (and her team’s) experience means the Sooners know they won’t come close to achieving all of their goals in one weekend.

Instead, OU is rolling into 2024 as it does every year — harnessing a humble approach to improve every day.

How to Watch Oklahoma at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge:

  • Game 1: Thursday vs. Utah Valley, 10:30 a.m., FloSoftball
  • Game 2: Thursday vs. No. 11 Duke, 1 p.m., FloSoftball
  • Game 3: Friday vs. No. 7 Washington, 8:30 p.m., FloSoftball
  • Game 4: Saturday vs. Long Beach State, 1 p.m., FloSoftball

“We've been grinding on this field for what seems like forever,” Gasso said on Monday before the Sooners departed for Mexico. “Everybody's excited. Team's looking good, playing well.”

The Sooners lost key players in the offseason.

Two-time All-American and 2023 Gold Glove shortstop Grace Lyons graduated, as well as transfer slugger Haley Lee and stud pitcher Alex Storako. Grace Green, a versatile utility player, also graduated out after winning a third straight title.

The transfer portal helped the attrition as well.

Jordy Bahl left for Nebraska, and reserve catcher Sophia Nugent and power hitter Jocelyn Erickson both headed out to the SEC a year early, landing at Tennessee and Florida respectively.

Gasso wasted no time reloading. On top of the four freshmen she had already signed, the legendary Oklahoma coach landed graduate transfer pitchers in Oklahoma State’s Kelly Maxwell and Liberty’s Karlie Keeney, former Wisconsin pitcher Paytn Monticelli who arrived in Norman as as sophomore and a veteran backup catcher in Riley Ludlam, a graduate transfer from Furman.

Maxwell, Keeney and Ludlam join a veteran-laden team, as Tiare Jennings, Jayda Coleman, Kinzie Hansen, Rylie Boone, Alynah Torres, Alyssa Brito and Nicole May are also entering their final year of eligibility.

"There's 10 of them,” Gasso said. “Ten very, very monumental athletes that have been in our program, that I hope everyone gets to enjoy this last season with them. They're special. They've done special things here.”

Not only does OU’s core boast plenty of experience, most of the Sooner seniors know what it takes to repeat as champions.

Finishing the season at Hall of Fame Stadium in the Women’s College World Series is always the goal, but the path to success remains in loving the day-to-day work between now and June.

“I don't really have expectations,” Coleman said on Monday. “Not saying, 'Oh, we need to win a national championship' or 'Oh, we need to win this certain amount of games.' I feel like for me the expectation is that we just continue to play above the standard and play Oklahoma softball.

“For me, I just wanna have a joyful season, and I feel like we don't really need to change anything that we're doing. Just continue to teach to the younger group, and just kind of let them know the knowledge that we know, and just pass it down.”

Though Oklahoma is returning to the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge for the first time since 2020, but there will be plenty of familiarity with the Sooners’ opponents.

Duke was OU’s opening challenge a year ago, and Oklahoma downed the Blue Devils 4-0 at the Mark Campbell Invitational.

The Blue Devils’ 2023 campaign was ended by Stanford in Super Regional action, but Duke is expected to once again contend to earn its way into the 2024 Women’s College World Series field.

No. 7 Washington, who finished the 2023 season in Oklahoma City, also took on the Sooners in last year’s Mark Campbell Invitational, and the Huskies will be OU’s third test of the weekend on Friday night.

Oklahoma’s weekend will close against Long Beach State on Sunday, who made it to the NCAA Tournament last year as winners of the Big West.

Facing top competition throughout the non-conference slate is the norm for OU, and Brito is excited to once again see where the team is at right of the bat.

“I think it only makes us better,” she said on Monday. “Excellence craves excellence. I think when people give us their best, it only makes us better…. Those games are really important, like you saw it last year.

“… We’re excited because those are just really great teams, well coached.”