Quiet Sooner lets play speak for itself
Merrill Jones, The Oklahoma Daily
High-profile college athletics are often defined by privileged players, high-paid coaches and corrupt athletic departments. Stories of academic fraud, recruiting violations and under-the-table benefits seem to always make the headlines.
The saddest part about that is the good stories go unnoticed. For a 6-foot 4-inch softball pitcher, the national headlines are one of the few places to go unnoticed.
OU freshman pitcher Keilani Ricketts may not get all the attention on ESPN, but she’s gotten plenty of it for her size, and more importantly her exceptional ability on the softball field.
However, Ricketts doesn’t do anything to draw that attention to herself. On the contrary, she almost hides from it.
OU softball head coach Patty Gasso said she noticed when she first met Ricketts that she wasn’t necessarily comfortable in the spotlight.
“I was shocked by how reserved she was,” Gasso said. “She was shy, almost embarrassed at times. She really just didn’t say much.”
Quiet as she might be, Ricketts can turn heads without saying a word. An All-American and national champion in high school, Ricketts has been catching peoples’ attention for years.
Ricketts was born and raised in San Jose, Calif., with her two sisters, Samantha and Stephanie, and brother Richard.
She was raised in an environment that encouraged participation in sports, and she and her sisters took to softball.
“Our lives always involved a lot of softball,” Samantha said. “We worked a lot together because I was a catcher and they were both pitchers.”
The fact that Stephanie was a pitcher as well meant that she and Keilani had a competitive relationship. They are now both Division 1 softball pitchers, with Stephanie pitching for the University of Hawaii.
“With Stephanie and I being closer in age and playing the same position, I always tried to compete with her,” Ricketts said.
Samantha, however, was more of a mentor to Ricketts.
“Because there is a five-year difference with Keilani, I know she looks up to me,” Samantha said.
That admiration played a part in bringing Ricketts to OU. Samantha had a productive four-year career for the Sooners, setting hitting and home-run records during her time in Norman. She now works as a graduate assistant for the team.
“Sam being here helped the recruiting process,” Gasso said. “She gave Keilani a sense of security and has helped her out.”
Ricketts turned down offers from prestigious softball programs, such as Washington, Florida and UCLA, for OU.
Now that she’s in Norman, nothing has changed. She is still drawing the attention of fans, scouts and opponents. She is still impressing with her size, her demeanor and her talent. And although everyone involved or interested in softball seems to be paying attention to her, she isn’t paying much attention to them. Samantha said that is going to be important to Ricketts’ success.
“A lot of people are looking up to her,” Samantha said. “There is already a lot of attention on you as a pitcher, and the added pressure can be tough to manage for four years.”
Even though she has been anointed and has performed as a superstar player, Ricketts hasn’t let it change her. She is still the same quiet and reserved person she always has been.
“She is just an ordinary kid,” Gasso said. “The way she is, you can’t tell whether she’s winning or losing. That’s what makes her real.”
Despite her shyness, Ricketts has a great relationship with her teammates.
“She’s pretty open with all of them,” Samantha said. “They all get along really well. It’s like a big group of sisters.”
Ricketts’ shyness should not be viewed as a lack of confidence. Quite the opposite, actually.
“I just like to let my play speak for itself,” Ricketts said.
Gasso also knows that Ricketts is aware of what she is capable of.
“She knows she has a gift,” Gasso said.
She may know she has a gift, and she has the athletic world in front of her with the sky as the limit, but Ricketts said humility will always be a priority to her.
“I just look at it as a blessing,” Ricketts said. “I know there are many people out there who would love to be where I am right now. I just want to take advantage of it.
And taking advantage of opportunities is exactly what Ricketts has done. She has the sixth-highest single-season strikeout total with one regular season game to play. Her ERA is 1.40, and she has 21 complete games and ten shutouts this year.
Ricketts is also a top-25 finalist for Collegiate Player of the Year.
Ricketts and the Sooners are ranked 12th in the nation with a 39-10 record and Ricketts herself is 24-8 on the mound in her first season. Gasso has high hopes for Ricketts’ career.
“I hope she reaches her full potential,” Gasso said. “She’s nowhere near as good as she will be. We’re just seeing the beginning of her.”