Senior Associate A.D., University of Oklahoma
In 2013, only one thing out-numbers the statistics, the crowds and the achievements, and that's the list of storylines.
There was the year-long trip from despair to delirium that will long be cited as the blueprint for over-coming heartache on the diamond.
There was a class of seniors, led by an unassuming icon, which set its jaw competitively, yet epitomized the fact that we "play," sports.
There were the young stars who time and again laughed in the face of drama and turned pressure into a springboard.
There were the "role players," a flattering label for those deemed a skill or two shy of stardom, who ignored the stereotypes and became household names.
There was a pitcher who threw a shutout in the national title game, but will be best remembered for her grace and unselfishness.
And there was violent devastation in our state that re-calibrated our approach to life yet helped this OU team find its peace and perspective.
So many storylines, and together, they forged one of the best examples of "team," that any of us have seen. And that's why these Sooners stole our hearts. As we looked for places to lay our affection for them, they insisted on being adored collectively.
To love one of them was to love all of them. They would have it no other way.
In the world of sports, that's what we know as Nirvana, not because of a National Championship, though that doesn't hurt, but because of the harmony.
Good teams often miss greatness because they are houses divided. And it doesn't take much division to erode talent and preparation. On the other hand, 21 who pull the rope not with one another but for one another find achievement that blossoms into a lifetime bond.
It all sounds so simple. In reality, it's more elusive than Keilani's "crop duster."
That brings us to the one storyline, the architect if you will, that was perhaps undersold during the 2013 season, Patty Gasso.
It's well documented that Gasso took over Oklahoma at a time when her team shared a playing facility with the local rec leagues then built both in brick and stature a program to which softball now tips its cap.
On her watch, OU has won two national titles, one of only five programs to do so, and reached that pinnacle in by far the least-populated of the four states represented on that list. While others basked in friendlier recruiting environs, Gasso created her own culture and elbowed Oklahoma in there among the nation's elite.
Back in 2000, when the Pac 12 and NCAA Tournaments were nearly synonymous, her team shocked the softball world to win the crown. Regular stops at the WCWS ensued and by the time the 2013 club hoisted the trophy, OU was a powerhouse that could find Hall of Fame Stadium blindfolded.
Under Gasso, OU has 19 straight post-season appearances and is the only program to be ranked in every single week of the NFCA poll that began in 1995. This isn't consistency; it's a routine that only the sunrise can match.
And if it stopped right there, the accomplishments would be, and have been, worthy of hall of fame induction. But it's not a home run, not if we also expect coaches to help their players grow from adolescence to adulthood.
Patty Gasso looks beyond herself, beyond the trophy case and sees young women, who need love, guidance, a kick in the butt and a batting adjustment. She builds more than softball programs, she builds character and maturity. To see her more meaningful impact look to the former players who reference their life lessons a lot more quickly than their championships.
One of them said, "Coach was very tough on us and held us accountable to our grades, our training, our performance on and off the field. She required us to dress for success going to class every day. She wanted us to be successful in everything that we did. I am proud to say I still hold myself to (her standard) every day. Coach impacted us and made us better all-around women in our careers at OU and helped shape us all for success in our lives. "
That came from a player who competed in the WCWS. Do you see more about winning games in that quote or being a better person?
On senior day this year, an emotional Jessica Shults, whose medical trials concerned many, said she could not imagine having a similar college experience anywhere else. It should be noted that she made that statement before winning a national championship.
Championships are euphoric; loving support, when you're scared and sick, runs a whole lot deeper.
And grades? The team that won this title a few miles north of Norman is also north of 3.0 in team grade point average.
Patty will cringe when she reads this. Her appreciation of Missy Lombardi and Tripp MacKay and the other members of her staff is genuine, and she knows well that it's the players who make the pitches and swing the bats. She always doles out first credit to them.
But if you look back over the last 19 years at a truly remarkable run, and a run that started from next to nothing, only one face has remained the same ... Patty Gasso.
This year, she, her staff and this talented and lovable group of players gave us a season's worth of Sooner Magic. The recipe was a proven mixture of guts and hugs that changes people for the better and, yes, wins championships.
Indeed, so many captivating storylines, all of which culminated when shouts of joy and ball gloves flew high into the Oklahoma night. Thanks, Sooners, for a spine-tingling chapter in this incredible classic.