Oklahoma seniors win the WCWS every year. Will Patty Gasso and the freshmen be able to maintain the dynasty?

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma. – Fans in the outfield looked toward left field as Oklahoma’s Kelly Maxwell ran out of the bullpen. The Sooners were four eliminations away from the national championship, and Maxwell’s entrance was met with excitement and a collective deep breath.

The Sooners already felt like they were in control of their destiny, but coach Patty Gasso was putting her aces to close out this championship series against No. 1 Texas. Maxwell, later named the Most Outstanding Player of the Women’s College World Series, did just that, clinching the Sooners’ 8-4 victory, sweeping the championship series and making Oklahoma the first team to four-peat as national champions in the college softball history.

Oklahoma is familiar with this stage, but the players and Gasso will surely point to the challenges that come with achieving this level of success again, and again, and again. Especially this season, the pressure has increased, senior outfielder Jayda Coleman said.

“As we went along, if we lost one game, two games, we lost to Texas, everyone had an opinion about us,” Coleman said. “It was frustrating just seeing everyone on Twitter, TikTok hoping for someone else but us.”

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She shrugged. “Well… that didn’t happen, so…”

With eight national titles and 17 WCWS appearances since 2000, Oklahoma’s dynasty has been building for some time. Over the last four national championship seasons, OU compiled a 235-15 record.


Coach Patty Gasso and Kelly Maxwell led Oklahoma to its fourth consecutive national title. (USA today)

As the victories piled up, skepticism followed. Oklahoma has lost more games this season (seven) than in 2017. Texas dethroned the Sooners as the top seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years. Doubters pointed to them as signs of vulnerability, while comments about the home crowd advantage OU enjoys when playing at the WCWS 20 miles away from campus sparked frustration and conversations about rotating the event.

“It’s probably the most difficult coaching season in recent memory because of a lot of naysayers,” Gasso said. “Heavy is a head wearing the crown is the only thing that really stands out. I heard someone say that. It really felt true to me. “It was exhausting.”

But as the noise around the team grew, Oklahoma maintained its identity on the field.

“Love us or hate us, I feel like there has to be a certain level of respect for what we’ve done for softball, for women’s sports,” senior pitcher Nicole May said. “It’s just crazy to see the growth of the sport, and I just hope to see it continue to grow.”

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Texas coach Mike White pointed to Oklahoma’s ability to “recharge and continue to get top-tier players into their program” as one of the factors that continually puts the Sooners over the top. Freshman outfielder Kayden Henry and sophomore infielder Viviana Martinez pointed to the Sooners’ roster of veterans as the biggest difference: Oklahoma’s 10-player senior class anchored every run in the league.

In that class are Coleman, Tiare Jennings, Rylie Boone, Alyssa Brito and Kinzie Hansen, who all rank in the top 10 in program history in career batting average. The trio of Maxwell — who transferred to OU this season from rival Oklahoma State — May and Karlie Keeney are the founding members of the pitching staff. Infielder Alynah Torres and utility player Riley Ludlam close out that dynastic senior class. The five who have been at OU since the beginning of their careers – Coleman, Jennings, Boone, Hansen and May – have never experienced a postseason without a national title.

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“They will go down in history – not just at OU – but personally I would say across the country as one of the best softball lessons you’ve ever seen. I’m proud of that,” Gasso said. “It would be easy to say we’ve had enough. It’s hard and we’ve had enough. But they’re elite athletes. Whether they want it or not, they grind, they work hard.”

But what Gasso has built in Norman will not end with their departure. That’s where freshmen come in. Ella Parker and Kasidi Pickering were the two rookies who broke into the starting lineup this season, and neither shied away from the postseason spotlight.

Parker went 3-for-4 in the Sooners’ elimination game against Florida, hitting the game-tying RBI that sent the game into extra innings. He finished the season with a team-best .415 batting average. Pickering hit a home run in every game of the championship series. Both freshmen were named to the WCWS All-Tournament team.

“I give all the credit to the seniors,” Pickering said. “Every at-bat a senior has come up and talked to me beforehand and helped me with my mindset for these upcoming at-bats, so I give them everything.”

When asked if she feels any pressure to take on what seniors leave behind, Pickering quickly said no.

On the horizon for Oklahoma is a move to the SEC, which just sent all 13 of its softball teams to the NCAA Tournament. The realignment will introduce a new level of competition. The Sooners also welcome an eight-player class in the 2024 recruiting cycle that ranks No. 1 in the country for Extra Innings Softball. Of course, an unprecedented five-peat will also be in the foreground.

“We need (the freshmen). They’re doing some great, great things offensively,” Gasso said. “There’s a lot of young pitchers watching and learning and waiting for their number to be called. The future will continue to be bright even without these 10 seniors.”

Hansen, Keeney and Jennings will return as graduate assistants next year, Gasso said. But even as the players who formed the dynasty change, the figure behind each championship run remains in Gasso.

“I’m ready to start coaching again because I don’t have to coach this,” Gasso said, gesturing to the seniors next to her. “They know it. They have it. They train each other. “I’m really excited about what’s to come.”

Oklahoma’s parade into the outfield Thursday night to celebrate with teary eyes and championship trophies in hand felt equal parts familiar but exhilarating. Like an ace coming into play at a crucial moment, the last hurrah has finally arrived. This chapter in OU history closed with a sense of accomplishment and relief at having made history once again.

“This, to me, definitely felt a little more sentimental. We grew up together,” Hansen said. “There’s never been a hero at the plate or on the mound or anything like that. This was a team effort. We fought all season. Everyone always had something to say about us. People considered us outside. It was just a grind. Everything mentally, physically. We argued all year. “It was worth it right now.”

(Top photo: Tyler Schank / NCAA Photos via Getty Images)