Oct. 5, 2012
NORMAN, Okla. – As she headed into the start of her 19th fall camp as Oklahoma’s head softball coach, Patty Gasso was anxious to see the mentality of her players as they showed up for their first practice since the end of the 2012 season.
How would the team respond after coming so close to capturing a national championship?
Now two weeks into fall camp, Gasso has her answer.
“I wanted to see that we were still hungry for a championship, and that was very apparent from the start,” she said. “There is a tremendous amount of passion and energy at practice.”
The team has used last season’s adversity as segue into a new season with even high aspirations; a testament to the maturity shown from a team that features seven upperclassmen.
“The amount of experience that we’ve gained from last year’s postseason is evident this fall. We look very seasoned for such an early time of the year,” Gasso remarked. “That’s very encouraging.”
| Oklahoma Fall Festival
|| Friday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. vs. North Central Texas
|| Saturday, Oct. 6 at 2:30 p.m. vs. Connors State
|| Saturday, Oct. 6 at 4:45 p.m. vs. Oklahoma Christian
|| Sunday, Oct. 7 at 2:30 p.m. vs. Odessa College
|| Sunday, Oct. 7 at 4:45 p.m. vs. Seminole State
|| Norman, Okla. | Marita Hynes Field
|| $5 - Adults, $3 - Seniors/Youths, Free - Kids Under 3
The fall season can be seen as a chance to refine skills for the players that have already been in the program.
“With the upperclassmen, there’s not a lot for me to do from a coaching standpoint because they’ve lived through it,” Gasso explained. “They understand what it takes to win and they’re committed to that. That’s been something I’ve enjoyed watching.”
Two of those upperclassmen, All-Americans Keilani Ricketts and Jessica Shults, added even more experience to their respective resumés after they spent the summer as members of Team USA.
“I feel a little bit more security and understanding of the game from the two of them, but I also feel that they were a little bit tired [at the beginning of camp],” Gasso explained. “They went right to Team USA from the World Series, which had a lot of ups and downs and a lot of emotions.
“Literally, their greatest softball moment and their worst softball moment all happened in one night.”
“They didn’t get the chance to walk away from that with the opportunity to recuperate and rejuvenate. They just had to keep going all summer,” Gasso said.
“I can tell that they were a little bit worn out, but as seniors on a mission they understand that they have a lot to share with our younger group, and that gets them hungry and fired up again.”
The major goal right now, according to Gasso, is getting the seven-member freshman class on board and comfortable with their surroundings. This is another area where a head coach can get assistance from her veteran players.
“There is a lot to learn physically, mentally and emotionally about the game and about themselves; those are things we’re putting a lot of focus on,” Gasso said.
“My upperclassmen have not only done a very good job of leading by example, but they’ve also done a very good job of teaching. They understand that this freshman class is important to our success; that’s really where our focus has been.”
All seven members of the freshman class hail from Oklahoma, a first for Coach Gasso.
“There is a very raw athleticism about them,” she said of the freshmen. “You can see that they all need a push when it comes to conditioning; they all need a push when it comes to both understanding and playing the game at the speed and level that we’re accustomed to.”
“I am having fun watching their excitement, though,” remarked Gasso. “They’re excited to see their bodies changing, and they’re excited to see that there’s another level of athleticism in them that they have never tapped into.”
When you couple the freshman class with the returning experience amongst the upperclassmen, in addition to a group of six sophomores, Coach Gasso likes the roster she has in front of her.
“There’s a lot of growth happening right now, and when you team that up with a tremendous amount of experienced players, it’s a really good combination,” she explained.
“If I was a freshman in this program right now, I’d be very excited with the idea that I get to work with some of the best players in the country.”
According to Gasso, when the freshmen arrived on campus, they were a bit star-struck by their older teammates.
“At first, they were in awe,” Gasso said. “They were in awe of the power of Keilani Ricketts, the power of Lauren Chamberlain, the speed of some of the others, the speed of our defense and the way the team plays.”
“They were in awe of everything. It took a little bit of time to get them to bring their jaws back up and start getting them to understand that they can be one of these players.”
“It’s been fun,” Gasso remarked about the freshman class. “It’s been a challenge, yet I really enjoy watching my upperclassmen teach and they’re doing a lot of it.”
The Sooners open their eight-game fall schedule this weekend with the annual Fall Festival. The games will allow Coach Gasso the chance to get the freshmen up to speed.
“I’m really looking to give my freshmen an opportunity to get their feet on the ground and work with us to understand the level, speed and intensity of the game,” she said.
“I want to surround them with upperclassmen that will bring out that in-game style. A lot of these freshmen just came out and played; they were good enough so they just played. Now it’s a little bit more, and you have to get them to understand that feeling.”
“I want to get them a lot of at bats,” Gasso went on to say about her group of newcomers. “Some of our best scrimmaging is happening within our intersquads. This is about getting my freshmen comfortable with the Sooner uniform on their backs and just performing and getting all the nerves out of their system.”
The Fall Festival begins Friday night at 7 p.m. against North Central Texas. The Sooners then face Connors State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by a matchup against Oklahoma Christian at 4:45 p.m. The tournament wraps up Sunday afternoon with 2:30 p.m. contest against Odessa College, followed by a 4:45 p.m. game versus Seminole State.
Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for senior citizens and youths (high school students and younger). Children that are three years old or younger will have free admission.