NORMAN, Okla. - The 2006 softball season officially gets underway Tuesday, Jan. 17 when the Sooners report for individual practices. Team practices begin Monday, Jan. 23. OU will have four weeks of preparation before competing in its opening season tournament, the UNLV Alexis Resort Kickoff Classic, in Las Vegas, Nev. (Feb. 10-13).
In preparation for the upcoming season, SoonerSports.com will preview the 2006 Oklahoma softball team under the direction of head coach Patty Gasso, who is in her 12th year at the helm of the Sooner program. The first part in the series features a brief outlook and a glance at the Sooners' schedule.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN 2006
Head Coach Patty Gasso returns for her 12th season after guiding the Sooners to a National Championship, three Big 12 titles, two Big 12 Tournament titles and five Women’s College World Series appearances during her tenure.
The goals have not changed in 2006. The preseason aspirations remain the same: win the Big 12, host and win a regional and super regional and return to the World Series to claim a National Championship.
While the goals have not changed, the faces of this year’s team have. The Sooners have a tough challenge in replacing the graduating foursome of Christina Enea, Kami Keiter, Jessica Leslie and Heather Scaglione who combined for a total of 11 All-Big 12, seven All-Midwest Region and four All-America honors during their careers. It could be considered one of the most accomplished classes in OU softball history.
In fact, it has not been since those four players were freshmen that the Sooners have had to rely on such a young group as they will in 2006.
Headlining this year’s squad will be returning All-Americans Norrelle Dickson and Kristin Vesely and returning starters Jamie Fox and Savannah Long. The rest of the lineup will feature freshmen and sophomores who will be called upon to take on new roles and play immediately for the Sooners.
“I have been so encouraged by the work habit and potential of our freshmen,” Gasso said. “Yes, we have a lot of unanswered questions about our new group but there is something very exciting about that as well.
“The biggest challenge of this season is going to be patience with this youthful group we have. It is going to require leadership from our returnees to train these freshmen along the way. Once they come along, I’m really excited about the opportunities and possibilities that this team is going to have this season.”
OU will open the season in Las Vegas, Nev., for the UNLV Alexis Resort Kickoff Classic (Feb. 10-12) where the play is highlighted by games against Washington and Kentucky.
Following the tournament, Oklahoma will play a doubleheader in its home opener against Central Arkansas Wednesday, Feb. 15. The Sooners will remain in Norman as they host the OU/Nike Classic Feb. 17-19 which will include match ups against Indiana, Nevada and North Dakota State.
OU rounds out the month of February with a trip to the Palm Springs Invitational (Feb. 23-26) in Palm Springs, Calif. The Sooners open the tournament against Oregon, who the Sooners defeated last season in NCAA regional play.
In March, OU will be back in action at the OU Softball Complex in the OU Invitational (March 4-5) which will feature a highly touted match up against Louisiana State with Troy State joining the three-team tournament.
The following weekend, Oklahoma will host its final tournament of the season, the OU Worth Tournament, slated for March 10-12. During OU/Worth play, the Sooners will face Utah Valley State, North Texas and McNeese State, twice.
Oklahoma will round out the final tournament of the season at the annual Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif. (March 15-19) with games against Utah, Alabama and Fresno State in pool play.
The 18-game Big 12 schedule is highlighted by home contests with Missouri, Texas and Kansas. The road portion features trips to Nebraska, Texas A&M, Baylor and Iowa State.
The annual Bedlam series will begin in Stillwater on April 5 and conclude in Norman on April 26. Both games are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
“As usual the Big 12 is going to be a dominating conference this season and will be extremely difficult week in and week out,” Gasso said. “You have to play the best teams if you want to be the best and we are certainly going to be challenging ourselves throughout the entire Big 12 schedule this season.”
Postseason play begins with the Big 12 Tournament, which runs from May 10-13, and will be played at the Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
For the second consecutive season, the NCAA tournament begins with four-team NCAA Regionals that will be hosted at 16 sites from May 19-21. NCAA Super Regionals will feature (May 26-27) two teams in a best-of-three format at eight different sites.
The Women’s College World Series, played in Oklahoma City, will run June 1-7 with the final two days featuring a best-of-three format between the final two teams.
Part 2 - Tuesday, Jan. 17: Infield and outfield
Part 3 - Wednesday, Jan. 18: Pitching and Batting lineup