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'We're here for the Big 12 title': OU softball starts championship aspirations with conference opener against Iowa State

Tiare Jennings

Junior infielder Tiare Jennings during the game against Kentucky on March 4.

Oklahoma (27-1) will face its first Big 12 opponent of the season on Friday, but after competing in seven games last week and defeating four ranked opponents, OU was drained heading into conference play. 

The roster has seen nearly 30 teams in the first third of the season and is currently on a 19-game win streak. Due to the loaded schedule, head coach Patty Gasso said rest was crucial before the next phase of the season. 

“Definitely more importance on rest, and getting our legs back and our bodies back,” Gasso said. It’s important for us to continue to keep them rested. They’re getting massages, they’re working with their athletic trainer to do everything they can to be ready for Friday.” 

The Sooners start a three-game series against Iowa State (11-14) at 4 p.m. on Friday in Ames.

The Cyclones will likely not be OU’s toughest conference foe this season, as Oklahoma State, Texas and Baylor are ranked No. 2, 8 and 22, respectively.

“Anytime we have conference teams that are that good, it makes us prepare hard,” Gasso said. “They make us better, and that is ultimately our goal. I don’t know if people believe it or not but win or lose, we want to get better … all of these teams help create that for us.” 

Last season, Oklahoma fell short in the Big 12 Championship, failing to claim its fifth consecutive tournament title after falling to OSU 4-3.

OU is looking to take its 11th consecutive regular-season championship against a tougher-than-usual Big 12 slate.

“We are here to win championships now,” junior infielder Tiare Jennings said. “We’re here for the Big 12 title. Just know that we’re coming in with definitely a different fire. Now it’s time to just start it strong, finish strong.

“We laid the foundation of the first third of the season, and now it’s just time to come in and win a championship from here on out.” 

Hansen rebounds after last season’s struggles 

Senior catcher Kinzie Hansen has returned to her sophomore form after battling injuries last season. 

A minor setback due with an appendix injury got Hansen off to a slow start in 2023, but since her reappearance in the lineup, she has been a reliable source of offense for the Sooners.

Hansen has six home runs in 18 games this season, compared to only eight in 52 games last season.

Gasso said Hansen has put in the work to rekindle her power, 24 home runs in 2021, this season.

“She loves softball,” Gasso said. “She loves hitting. She wants to be the best hitter in the country. She works at it. She talks about it a lot, maybe too much.” 

Hansen boasts a .380 batting average with 27 RBIs this season.

Coleman plays 'chess, not checkers'

After OU’s win over No. 19 Auburn on March 19, Gasso emphasized the importance of junior center fielder Jayda Coleman.

Coleman leads the team with a .507 batting average, good for fifth nationally. She also leads the Sooners with seven home runs this season, along with 20 RBIs.

“I mean she’s just made differently,” Gasso said, “I mean she is, to me, an elite athlete. I believe you can put her in any sport, in any position and she will be one of the best. She will excel.” 

Last season, the lead-off batter ranked second on the team with a .424 batting average and a .584 on-base percentage.

To Jennings, a two-time All-American and one of the best hitters in the sport, Coleman remains a step ahead of her counterparts.

She’s just one step ahead of the pitching that’s coming,” Jennings said. “She knows exactly what’s going to be thrown. She’s definitely playing a different game right now. She’s definitely playing chess and not checkers.” 

For Gasso, Coleman’s desire to succeed is evident and is one of the commanding forces in her success this season. 

“She loves competition,” Gasso said. “I think that’s what drives her, and without saying it, I know she wants to be the best and so she works for it for sure.”

This story was edited by Austin Curtright.

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