Dec. 31, 2009
Fifteen years ago Patty Gasso was given a mission to put the Oklahoma softball program on the map. There is no question her mission has been accomplished. With the decade coming to a close, SoonerSports.com looks back at the 10 most defining years in the program's history.
|2000 National Champions | Awards and Honors|
When one takes a look at the roster through each of the past 10 seasons, fans see an eclectic group of young women who came from all over the country and a variety of backgrounds but all came to Oklahoma for one purpose - to win.
There was Lauren Eckermann, the young lady who battled back from empyema and came to OU as a junior college transfer to help lead the Sooners to a Big 12 title. Samantha Ricketts, a late signee who went on to become the Oklahoma and Big 12 career leader in runs batted in.
Before that came the likes of Jennifer Stewart, a hard-working pitcher out of Yukon. Erin Evans (Lawton), Kelli Braitsch (Broken Arrow), Ashli Barrett (Oklahoma City), Savannah Long (Midwest City) and Lindsey Vandever (Davenport) are all Oklahoma natives who played critical roles in building this program. All were a part of a tradition of keeping homegrown players at home.
Lisa Carey came to Oklahoma because of the professionalism by which Gasso conducted her program. Little did Carey know that she would deliver a home run now known as `the shot heard around Oklahoma.' The blast gave Oklahoma a 2-0 lead in the 2000 national title game.
The west coast pipeline brought players like Amber Flores, Christina Enea, Leah Gulla, Norrelle Dickson and Heather Scaglione all to Norman. Kami Keiter came to OU from Colorado because of the family atmosphere surrounding the program.
D.J. Mathis (Illinois) and Susan Ogden (Texas) all earned national honors during their time here. Kristin Vesely followed in the footsteps of associate head coach Melyssa Lombardi by attending OU as a product out of Arizona. They came from all over and came with the same goal.
During the decade, 62 young women earned varsity letters in this tradition-rich program. All 62 undoubtedly have memories they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
There is no question that Gasso has elevated her influence as one of the nation's premier authorities on the sport. Over the last 10 years, she has remained true to her coaching philosophy and dedication to turn young ladies into strong women.
"I've probably relaxed a little but not much," Gasso said. "My philosophy and standards have not changed from day one. My job is to mentor, as well as coach, and my mission is to create a consistent, winning program that turns girls into women while preparing them for success in their world outside of softball."
In her time at OU, she has amassed more than 700 wins and enters the 2010 season just 11 wins shy of her 900th career win. In this past decade, Gasso posted a 490-146-2 (.768) record overall and 132-46 (.742) in Big 12 games. It averages out to 49 wins a year and a little more than 13 conference wins each season.
She was named Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2000 and again in 2009. The OU coaching staff earned National Coaching Staff of the Year honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association in 2000 and regional accolades in 2000, 2001 and 2004.
The most defining moment in Oklahoma softball history came on May 29, 2000. OU reached its first Women's College World Series and with each win during at the event; the team grew more confident in accomplishing the ultimate goal of being on top of the softball universe.
"I remember that team got really close in 1999," Gasso said. "They were a very tough and confident team that had a great work ethic. We had most of the players back, so I knew they were going to be a very good team. They had experience, pitching and power. People knew of us, but I don't know if people believed that we could be a top-five team. I think that fueled that group. They were a very consistent team."
The Sooners took down opponent after opponent and ultimately defeated UCLA 3-1 to capture the first national championship for an Oklahoma women's program. That single moment put Oklahoma on the map. While the Sooners were a known program, having been ranked in every NFCA poll, breaking a tradition held by west coast teams thrust the Sooners into the national spotlight full-time.
"That absolutely, obviously changed the whole perception of our program and the direction that we were going," Gasso added. "That immediately made us a program of tradition and legacy. We've built off of that and always have been striving to get back."
Already the owners of the best all-time Big 12 record, the Sooners won four Big 12 titles during the decade. Oklahoma captured the Championship titles in 2001 and 2007 and won the regular season title in 2000 and 2009.
The Sooners reached the NCAA Tournament all 10 seasons, winning regional titles in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008. After advancing and subsequently winning the national championship in 2000, the Sooners went back to the Women's College World Series the following four years from 2001-04.
What most Oklahoma fans remember about the decade is the national title in 2000. But when SoonerSports.com asked fans to submit memories, one cannot help but smile at the joy felt by Chris Norris after his daughter's performance against Oklahoma State in 2009. Katie Norris drove in five runs and hit a grand slam as Oklahoma dropped the Cowgirls 6-0 to win the Bedlam Series and capture the outright Big 12 Championship.
"It was special seeing OU sweep Missouri for a share of the 2009 Big 12 Championship," Chris said. "But, watching my daughter return to her hometown and have the type of game she did was a very proud moment."
During the 2003 season, Oklahoma reached to special program milestones. OU recorded is 1,000th program victory and became the first Big 12 team to reach the 100-win mark in conference play. The 2005 season saw the Sooners set a mark for the longest winning streak in school history. The 29-game win streak spanned 36 days and covered five states.
When asked to recall off-the-field moments, Gasso takes special note to those who have gone through personal issues.
"Off the field, I think the things I remember the most are the student-athletes that have battled through personal issues whether it's injury, family and tragedies," Gasso said. "I remember the athletes that have so much pride wearing the Oklahoma uniform and playing the game hard and playing for the love of the game."
As the 2010 season approaches, the foundation set in Norman is a clear path for a future that has big shoes to fill. But if there's a program that understands the tradition and legacy set by those before, it is this one. The goal is simple - make the next 10 years even better than the last 10.
And there is no doubt Oklahoma can do just that.