The Oklahoma softball program is the gold standard after winning four of the past eight national championships under coach Patty Gasso.
The Sooners are the defending Women’s College World Series champions, and they are positioned to win it all again. They are ranked No. 1 in both the ESPN/USA Softball and the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association polls.
“It’s going to be a challenging season,” Gasso said. “I know that because of what we accomplished last year. We’re really working through what those challenges might be, but we have a very strong team in all phases. We’re ready to represent Oklahoma the way we always do and play hard.”
Jocelyn Alo, the reigning USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, returns as a super senior. The utility player set program records last season with 34 homers and a .475 batting average and had an NCAA-leading 1.109 slugging percentage.
Alo is one of five NFCA All-Americans back from last season for the Sooners, joining infielders Grace Lyons and Tiare Jennings, catcher Kinzie Hanson and utility player Jayda Coleman.
Jennings was the NFCA Freshman of the Year last season after setting an NCAA freshman record with 92 RBIs.
Oklahoma pitcher Jordy Bahl was the 2020-21 Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year as a senior at Papillion-La Vista High School in Nebraska. She already has a win over UCLA this season, and she was named the Wilson/NFCA Division I Pitcher of the Week after opening week.
“She’s really competitive and it’s very engaging,” Gasso said. “It’s like you can get lost in watching her pitch at times. She’s very calculated and very smart for a freshman.”
Big 12 rival Oklahoma State is among the most likely teams to stand in the way of an Oklahoma repeat. The Cowgirls were ranked in the top five of four different preseason polls.
“That’s kind of our motto: The time is now,” Oklahoma State outfielder Chyenne Factor said. “You all saw our rankings, where we’re at in the preseason. I mean, it is just a ranking, but that’s what people think of us, and that’s what we think of ourselves.”
Oklahoma State’s Miranda Elish, Hayley Busby and Kelly Maxwell are on the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Watch List.
Elish, a pitcher and utility player, was the 2020 Softball America National Player of the Year at Texas. She did not play last season. Busby, an outfielder, was a third-team NFCA All-American last season. She had 19 home runs and a .794 slugging percentage. Maxwell, a pitcher, was All-Big 12 last season.
Busby, Maxwell, Factor and infielder Kiley Naomi all were named preseason All-Big 12.
Oklahoma State coach Kenny Gajewski said the goal is playing for the national title at the World Series in Oklahoma City.
“It’s not getting to OKC,” he said. “It was getting to OKC our first years. That’s not the expectation. From my perspective, I personally would say that not being in that last game would be a disappointment.”
There are plenty of other contenders.
Florida State, last year’s national runner-up, returns pitcher Kathryn Sandercock and infielder Sydney Sherrill.
UCLA, which won the title in 2019, features pitcher Megan Faraimo, outfielder Aaliyah Jordan and infielder Briana Perez. Faraimo missed the World Series last season with an injured hand.
Alabama pitcher Montana Fouts is one of the nation’s best players. She has support in pitcher Lexi Kilfoyl, creating one of the nation’s top one-two punches in the circle. Infielder Kaylee Tow leads the offense.
Florida should challenge Alabama in the Southeastern Conference. Infielders Charla Echols, Hannah Adams and Skylar Wallace will make the Gators tough to score on.
Washington always is a threat with Gabbie Plain in the circle. She was a finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year last season before playing for Australia at the Tokyo Olympics.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CliffBruntAP