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Why Patty Gasso is Cherishing Oklahoma's 'Elite' Core 5 for One Last Run

Tiare Jennings, Jayda Coleman, Kinzie Hansen, Nicole May and Rylie Boone will all conclude their illustrious careers at Oklahoma in 2024 after already winning three titles.

NORMAN — By the time the calendar flips to June, a number of chapters will have closed across the collegiate sports landscape.

Things will be no different for Oklahoma in 2024.

This week, Patty Gasso’s team will embark on the program’s last run through the Big 12 Conference before adding even more firepower to the Southeastern Conference in 2025.

But changing the conference logo on the jersey won’t be the only difference when the Sooners hit the field next year.

Thursday’s season opener at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge in Mexico not only marks the beginning of OU’s five-month quest to capture a fourth consecutive  national championship, but it marks the final first game for the team's core players — who have already cemented their status as Oklahoma legends.

Tiare Jennings, Jayda Coleman, Kinzie Hansen, Nicole May and Rylie Boone are all entering their final year in Norman. All five players began their careers with the Sooners, and have been the last team standing in Oklahoma City in every full season the group has competed together.

Rylie Boone, Nicole May, Jayda Coleman, Tiare Jennings and Kinzie Hansen

OU's Core 5: Rylie Boone, Nicole May, Jayda Coleman, Tiare Jennings and Kinzie Hansen.

Replacing them, as well as fellow seniors Alyssa Brito, Alynah Torres and Kelly Maxwell — all of whom transferred to OU at one point or another — will be a headache for another day. Gasso is intent on enjoying this ride, but she is wary of the challenge that comes eventually to turn over the roster.

“I think about them more than I ever have,” Gasso said at a preseason Media Day press conference on Monday night. “Because I know this is like the end of … I don’t want to say that because we have a good freshman class. It’s not the end of a big, long string. But it is the end of one of the most elite classes that has ever and may ever play softball.”

The group, or the Core 5 as Coleman dubbed it, learned from elite leaders like Jocelyn Alo, Lynnsie Elam and Grace Lyons, and have passed their knowledge down to the next generation of Sooner stars.

They’ve been with the program so long that Gasso even joked later Monday that next year she’ll get to start coaching again.

“These guys know everything. They don’t need us (coaches) anymore,” Gasso said with a smile. “So it’s gonna be nice to do my job again.”

The pieces around them have changed, supplemented by transfers and underclassmen while losing plenty of teammates to basic attrition. But all five have played central roles in each of Oklahoma’s last three national titles.

Jennings, Coleman and Hansen often get the attention for their heroics in the batter’s box, but May was essential from the very beginning.

It was May who heated up to save the 2021 Bedlam Series, and she went toe-to-toe with Washington’s Gabbie Plain on ABC in the Norman Super Regional before Giselle Juarez found her form again at the Women’s College World Series.

Boone’s defensive excellence was apparent from her freshman year, but she’s gotten better at the plate every year as well. Defenses can’t ever fall asleep against Boone, as she’s just as likely to nestle a ball into the outfield shallows as she is to bunt for a hit.

“I get to see it every day,” Gasso said. “They’re special. They’re different. And their style of competitive spirit is very infectious on this team. And it’s really infectious to our freshmen, which is exactly what I’m looking for. So they have big personalities.”

Oklahoma’s most recent era of dominance wouldn’t have happened without those five, and each piece will be impossible to replace with a like-for-like player next year.

But as the final season of those illustrious careers are just days away from getting fully underway, Coleman said they’re working as hard as ever because it’s the only way they know.

“We just truly find joy in the grind,” Coleman said. “It is truly fun to grind throughout the fall and, even during this time, when you get in the World Series, you feel so confident because you know no one has worked harder than you.

“ … We live for the Lord. And so when we just know that it’s already written, we can just go out there and have a blast. I feel like that’s where we find the joy, the Core 5.”

More Sooners will graduate out after this season than just those five stars.

Brito, who transferred to Oklahoma from Oregon in 2022, is also entering her final year (and Coleman lumps her in with the Core 5 despite spending her first season in Eugene).

The do-everything Torres is entering her final year, as are 2024 transfer pitchers like Maxwell and Karlie Keeney as well as catcher Riley Ludlam.

All 10 of Oklahoma’s seniors will leave their mark on Gasso’s program in one way or another. But Gasso isn’t ready to let go of the five she signed as freshmen and have coached for their entire careers — at least not yet.

“They’re great players,” she said. “Great young women. It’s going to be hard to see them go. I’m not going to think about it.

“I’m just going to coach the heck out of them and try to get every ounce of softball out of them that we can.”