Back-to-Back Champs to Open Season in Phoenix
Feb. 9-11 | Phoenix, Ariz. | GCU Softball Stadium
|Friday||Weber State||3:30 p.m.|
|Friday||Grand Canyon||6:30 p.m.
|Saturday||Grand Canyon||5:30 p.m.|
|On the Air|
|Radio||1560 AM | Chris Plank
NORMAN - The back-to-back reigning national champion Oklahoma softball team opens the 2018 season this weekend with five games at the Grand Canyon Kickoff Tournament, hosted by Grand Canyon University at GCU Softball Stadium in Phoenix, Ariz.
The Sooners, who have won five of their last eight season openers and are 32-14 all-time in season openers, start their title defense with Friday contests against Weber State (3:30 p.m. CT) and Grand Canyon (6:30 p.m. CT). On Saturday, Oklahoma will face Montana at 12:30 p.m. CT and Grand Canyon a second time at 5:30 p.m. OU concludes its opening weekend with a Sunday game at 11 a.m. CT.
Friday’s contest against Grand Canyon will be broadcast via YurView and ESPN3, while Saturday’s OU-GCU game will be streamed on the WAC Digital Network.
All games can also be heard on KEBC 1560 in Norman or online via link on SoonerSports.com.
No. 1 Across the Board
The Sooners open their 2018 campaign as the preseason favorite in both the NFCA and USA Softball preseason polls, marking the second straight year that OU is ranked No. 1 in both. Prior to last year, OU had never entered a season with the top ranking in either poll.
OU received 31 of 32 first-place votes and 79 points in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll, which is voted on by 32 NCAA Division I head coaches, one representing each conference. Oklahoma, Michigan, UCLA and Washington are the only programs to be ranked in every NFCA preseason poll, which dates back to 1995. OU also extended its streak of being ranked every week in the 24-year existence of the NFCA’s poll, 338 weeks in all.
Overall, the Sooners rank third with 18 top-10 appearances in the NFCA preseason poll, trailing only Arizona (20) and UCLA (19). This marks the eighth straight year the Sooners have started in the NFCA’s top 10, good for the nation’s longest active streak.
In the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll, the Sooners received 18 first-place votes and 496 points. This marks the 11th straight season and 14th in the 16-year history of the ESPN.com/USA Today poll that Oklahoma is ranked in the preseason top 10. The ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll is voted on by coaching representatives of 11 Division I Conferences in the 10 USA Softball regions and by media members who consistently cover Division I softball across the country.
Oklahoma also enters its 2018 campaign as the preseason pick to win the Big 12, as each of the other six head coaches placed the Sooners in the top spot (coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams).
This is the sixth straight year and ninth in the last 10 that OU has topped the Big 12’s preseason poll. OU received 36 points in this year’s poll and was followed by Baylor, which received the other first-place vote, at 31 points, Texas (24 points), Oklahoma State (23 points), Kansas (12 points), Iowa State (11 points) and Texas Tech (10 points).
Back in Force
The Sooners lost just one letterwinner from their 2017 national championship squad, returning 16 in 2018. OU will return seven position starters in senior infielder Kelsey Arnold, senior outfielder Nicole Pendley, senior catcher Lea Wodach, junior infielders Caleigh Clifton, Shay Knighten and Syndey Romero and sophomore utility player Nicole Mendes as well as all three primary pitchers from 2017 in seniors Paige Lowary and Paige Parker and sophomore Mariah Lopez.
All three of Oklahoma's 2017 All-Americans return in 2018, as Clifton, Knighten and Parker were all recognized as NFCA Second-Team All-Americans last season.
Additionally, the Sooners return all nine of their 2017 All-Big 12 honorees. Returning first-team All-Big 12 selections are Knighten, Lowary, Mendes (unanimous pick) and Parker. Returning second-team All-Big 12 honorees are junior outfielder Falepolima Aviu, Clifton, Pendley and Romero. Mendes and Lopez were members of the 2017 Big 12 All-Freshman Team. Knighten was named 2017 Big 12 Player of the Year, Parker was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Year for the third time, and Patty Gasso was named Big 12 Coach of the Year for the 10th time.
Overall, Oklahoma returns 89.3 percent of its 2017 hits, 95.5 percent of its home runs, 89.1 percent of its RBIs and 85.7 percent of its stolen bases.
OU also welcomes five newcomers this year in freshmen utility player Jocelyn Alo, catcher Lynnsie Elam, infielder Eliyah Flores and outfielder Alexa Schultz, and Missouri transfer pitcher Parker Conrad.
This Weekend's Opponents
Oklahoma will meet Weber State for just the second time in program history this weekend, with the first meeting coming in 2012 at the Sportco Kick-Off Classic in Las Vegas. The Sooners run-ruled the Wildcats 12-2 in the game. Weber State finished 2017 with a 37-22-1 record, including a 15-5 mark in conference play. In postseason, WSU finished in the championship round of the National Invitational Softball Championship.
This weekend will mark the second and third meetings all-time between Oklahoma and Grand Canyon. In the sole previous meeting, the Sooners defeated the Lopes 7-1 in the 2016 Easton Tournament in Fullerton, Calif. Grand Canyon is coming off a 36-18 season (11-4 WCC) in 2017.
The Sooners and Montana will face off for the first time in program history on Saturday. The Grizzlies made an NCAA Regionals showing in 2017, finishing with a 36-18 record (11-4 WCC).
Oklahoma’s game with Pacific on Sunday will mark the 11th all-time meeting between the two programs. Although Pacific won the first two contests, Oklahoma has won the other eight. Most recently, the Sooners took down the Tigers 9-0 in five innings at the Judi Garmin Classic in Fullerton, Calif., in 2013. Pacific posted a 28-26 record in 2017, including a 10-5 record in WCC play. Its season ended in the National Invitational Softball Championship.