When sellout crowds pack Marita Hynes Field to see top-ranked Oklahoma take on the rest of the softball world, the scene on the field often changes. There might be a different pitcher in the circle that has helped the team lead the nation in ERA, or a different batting order that has helped the team lead the nation in batting average.
But one thing has remained the same over the past four years.
That constant is where senior Sydney Romero stands. When she's not in the batter's box being one of the nation's most feared hitters, the San Diego, California native is at the front of the dugout with assistant coach JT Gasso, where she serves as as sort of player-coach for her teammates.
“That spot in the dugout is where I’ve always stood,” Romero said. “I like to sit next to JT, and we like to talk to our hitters about game plans and all that. I really like to be involved in that.”
Few college softball players can claim the accolades she has. Romero has been named a 2018 First-Team All American, a 2019 Big 12 Player of the Year and a finalist for USA Softball's 2019 National Player of the Year Award. The seemingly endless list of her awards and gaudy numbers speak for themselves, not to mention her two national championship trophies. She’s apart of a senior class that’s now been to the WCWS four times.
As her accomplishments on the field grow, she still sits in that same spot. And though the spot has never changed, a lot about the third baseman has. The 2019 senior class is maybe the most accomplished in Sooner history.
“I’ve seen her grow a lot in my time playing with her,” fellow senior Shay Knighten said. “She knows what she wants, and she goes after it. She’s a grinder, she’s a great teammate and she’s a great person. I’ve seen how much she’s grown, and it makes me want to grow with her.”
Along with a senior class making historic accomplishments, the Sooners also have a promising group of freshman poised to carry on the tradition that Romero has helped to cement.
Among that group of freshman is Grace Lyons. The shortstop is the lone freshman in an infield that is almost entirely staffed by seniors for much of the season — Knighten at first, Caleigh Clifton at second and Romero at third. To get the opportunity to play alongside such an accomplished group is something she said has been valuable to her in her first season in Norman. However, she singled out Romero as being a particularly good leader.
“Syd just has a really unique leadership style that I’m able to connect to and her heart is just awesome with how humble she is,” Lyons said. “The way she plays the game kind of reminds me of myself, and just kind of learning from her and picking her brain is just how I’m learning. I think that’s going to help me lead when she leaves.”
The unique style of leadership that Lyons cites doesn't involve Romero being the loudest on the field. On the contrary, Romero admitted to not being much of a boisterous personality on the field.
“I think that’s been my main goal this year, especially with the freshman class we have this year,” Romero said. “I think it’s our job to lead them the right way and lead by example. I just want to teach them, you know? I don’t try to be the loudest on the field or the most showy, I just like to lead by example.”
Not being the loudest on the field or the most showy isn't to say she doesn't express her passion for the game. One of the ways she said she's changed over the years is by showing more emotion when she plays. Romero likes to dance after making a play in the infield.
“It’s kind of interesting to think about how I was freshman year and how I am now,” Romero said. “I feel like I was a little calm on the field and just kind of played everything chill, but now I just kind of show my emotion more and show my passion for the game. Growing up I felt like that wasn’t me, but now it just comes out so naturally.”
Looking at her career at Oklahoma, it seems spotless, but Romero hit a brick wall in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. At that point in her time at OU, Romero had only known winning. She had won two national championships, and the Sooners entered Regional play as the No. 4 overall seed with a 50-3 record.
Over the course of the nine games Oklahoma played in the tournament, Romero batted .167 with four hitless games and zero home runs — she hit .443 and had 12 home runs during the regular season.
Romero and the Sooners swept Regionals and Super Regionals, but the third baseman wasn't playing up to her standards. By the time the WCWS rolled around, Oklahoma needed her to be the superstar she had been all season.
Through seven games in Regionals and Super Regionals this season, Romero is batting .500 and has hit two home runs and 3 RBIs.
"I think Sydney would tell you that she might've disappointed the team a little this time last year. She started to really press, and it showed," head coach Patty Gasso said. "She wasn't having fun because she felt like she had to do so much for the team, and she learned a valuable lesson from that. You're seeing that from her right now...and that is why I think she’s having a great senior year."
As she and the Sooners look to claim that elusive fifth championship trophy, Romero and the rest of the senior class will finish out their playing careers in Oklahoma City. Prior to the Big 12 Tournament, Romero hadn't put too much thought into her career in crimson coming to an end. She said she was just excited to get started with postseason action.
But as the twilight of her career is upon her, she's not just focusing on softball. Just like she has focused on being a leader with her teammates, she also thinks about being a leader and role model for fans. At press conference the day before Oklahoma's Super Regional against Northwestern, Romero said one of the most rewarding parts of playing softball at Oklahoma has been the opportunity to serve as a role model for young women.
“Playing for young girls and the future generations is a really cool thing to be a part of,” Romero said. “Not even just on the softball side of it. We could all care less about what we do on the field, but it’s so important to us to how we treat people and how people look up to us.”
The Sooners start WCWS play against Alabama at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 30, at USA Hall of Fame Stadium. The match will be broadcasted on ESPN2.