n early February, a few days before the two-time defending national champion Oklahoma softball team was about to embark on its quest for a three-peat, we were duly forewarned about incoming freshman Jocelyn Alo.
One-by-one, fellow Sooners heaped praise upon their Hawaiian Punch.
“She probably hits the ball harder than anybody I’ve ever faced,” said senior lefthander and four-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Paige Parker.
“It’s scary how strong that girl is,” said senior first baseman and 2017 WCWS Most Outstanding Player Shay Knighten.
“Playing second base with a righty up, I’m not normally scared someone is going to drill one at me, (but) I am with Jocelyn. She hits it hard. Every pitch,” said junior second baseman and second-team All-American Caleigh Clifton.
“She hits the ball so hard that it’s scary,” proclaimed NFCA Hall of Fame and 24-year OU coach Patty Gasso, looking somewhat frightened as she said it.
Before taking her first official at-bat of the spring season, Alo already was drawing comparisons to former Sooners great Lauren Chamberlain, the all-time NCAA Division I leader in home runs (95) and slugging percentage (.960).
“She can swing it in a way like Lauren Chamberlain, but maybe as a freshman with even more power,” Gasso prophesied.
And that’s precisely what has happened so far this season as the No. 4-seeded Sooners (53-3) prepare to host No. 13-seeded Arkansas (42-15) in this weekend’s NCAA Super Regional at Marita Hynes Field.
Through the first 56 games of their freshman seasons, Chamberlain and Alo have eerily similar stats:
Chamberlain: 26 home runs; 67 RBI; 60 hits; 60 runs scored; .452 on-base percentage; .865 slugging percentage.
Alo: 26 home runs; 67 RBI; 64 hits; 59 runs scored; .544 on-base percentage; .955 slugging percentage.
“I take the pressure off myself because I don’t want to be the next Lauren Chamberlain. I just want to be Jocelyn.”
Tempting as it is for gawking onlookers, Alo said she has tried not to get caught up in the Chamberlain comparisons.
“She’s awesome, awesome, awesome,” Alo said of Chamberlain. “But I think I take the pressure off myself because I don’t want to be the next Lauren Chamberlain. I just want to be Jocelyn.”
lo wears jersey No. 78 in honor of her father, Levi, who was an offensive lineman at Laney College in Oakland, Calif., where Alo’s mother, Andrea, also played softball. All four Alo daughters were introduced to sports at an early age, including the male-dominated wrestling and baseball.
“I think because he (my dad) didn’t have a boy he was like ‘Oh, my girls are going to wrestle,’ ” Alo said with a smile.
Alo’s first sport was wrestling, followed by Tee-ball. She played baseball from age 5 to 14 and was the only girl on her team, “So I was like, ‘Uh, this is kind of weird,’ ” Alo explained.
Alo’s father wrestled in high school, as did her uncle, aunt, grandfather and sisters.
“I really liked wrestling,” Also said. “I just liked showing dominance to other people. I liked that if I lost, it was my fault so I could always build up on that and know what to improve on. I liked putting people on their back, even boys, too. We had to wrestle boys in high school practice. It’s just an adrenaline rush.”
At age 10, Alo added softball to her repertoire and doubled up on baseball and softball for four years – softball in the morning, baseball in the afternoon.
Why did she keep playing baseball? “I just liked being the dominant female figure and I liked hitting it far off the guys,” said Alo, who actually felt more at home playing baseball. “I wasn’t used to being around all girls, so that (softball) was kind of different for me. But then I started getting all girlie and stuff, so it was fine.”
Levi Alo told Jocelyn she couldn’t give up wrestling until she won a state title. After finishing third in state as a high school freshman, Jocelyn claimed a state crown in girls wrestling her sophomore season.
Alo wanted to continue wrestling as a junior, but she stepped away from the sport rather than risk injury, knowing her future was in softball.
Alo orally committed to play collegiately at California, but changed her mind after her junior season in high school prior to playing travel ball for her fifth season with the powerhouse OC Batbusters that summer. “My heart wasn’t with Cal,” Alo said. “It wasn’t what I wanted.”
Alo de-committed from Cal and took a visit to OU. “It was just everything I was looking for in softball,” she said.
Sooners assistant coach JT Gasso said he knew very little of Alo and admitted having to look her up on YouTube. “I just saw power … and a wrestling video,” Gasso recalled. “I was just floored.”
When Gasso began working with Alo on her hitting, he recalled being scared to play ball-toss while examining her swing. “I was afraid to toss to her,” Gasso admitted. “I thought she was going to hit the ball through the net. Legit – frightened for my life.”
Alo said she prides herself on her determination and open-mindedness, which has made her even more lethal at the plate.
“You need to be open to change,” Alo said. “I just think to myself, ‘There’s always someone working harder than you. There’s always someone hitting more than you, taking more ground balls than you, taking more fly balls than you.’ I just have the mentality that you can’t stop working. My dad taught me that, too.”
This might be what impresses Gasso most. “She always wants to know how she can get better,” Gasso said. “I think that is more a testament to her as a competitor and athlete. Obviously, God-given athletic ability adds to that. Her drive helps her be how she is.”
In her first-ever Big 12 Conference series, Alo made an immediate impact going 4-for-5 (.800) with 10 RBI, six runs scored and five walks (.900 on-base percentage) against Texas Tech. All four hits being home runs for a slugging percentage of 3.200.
“The fact she doesn’t have to try to do it so hard makes her able to do what she does,” Gasso said of Alo’s power. “The fact she’s smooth I think gives her more power … She almost has to do less to get what she wants.”
With just 17 strikeouts in 203 plate appearances this season, Alo has shown tremendous discipline at the plate to avoid becoming an all-or-nothing hitter.
“It can get kind of distracting as an 18-year-old kid stepping in and you have fans screaming, ‘Come on, Jocelyn. Hit a home run,’ ” Gasso explained. “And if she doesn’t – she gets a single or she pops up or something – you hear an ‘Awww.’ But I think she’s done a really good job of ignoring that and staying in the moment, not worrying about the past, the future, what could be, what should be and just sticking to what she’s doing now.”
Alo has launched more than a few moon shots this season, the most recent of which came against Texas in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament two weeks ago when her home run to left field hit the top of the slow-pitch outfield fence 300 feet away.
“I always go to the plate thinking I own the pitcher,” Alo said. “It started from baseball, then transferred over to softball. I liked it more in baseball because it was (batting against) a guy.”
Alo credits her wrestling background for her power at the plate. “I’m pretty strong, I’d like to think, and that’s from wrestling,” Alo said. “We had to do bench presses. By the end of my sophomore year, I think I could bench my body weight. So like, that’s a lot.”
proud Polynesian whose full name is Jocelyn Aloha Pumehana Alo, delivering the correct pronunciation of her last name (AH-low) has been an ongoing struggle for Oklahomans since her arrival. “I really think it’s all your guys’ accents,” Alo jokingly surmised.
Alo is a cultural phenomenon who immediately embraced OU’s team culture that everyone “has your back.” Alo said playing alongside such talented and unselfish teammates has helped alleviate some of the pressure that has built throughout her historic freshman season.
A terror at the plate, the often-smiling Alo also has shown a far less intimidating side.
Alo quickly fit in with teammates and coaches, sharing candy and sweets that consistently were mailed from back home. She also recently began flashing the shaka – “hang loose” – sign while heading for home after each home run.
“She is a fierce competitor on the field,” Gasso said. “Off (the field), she’s super-nice and chill and it’s just fun to see the difference.”