Making Their Case: Former Stars Offer Analysis, Advice for WCWS TeamsTop Stories
Behind all eight teams competing in the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City are former players cheering their every move. They know what it’s like to be in that environment and what it takes to be successful on the sport’s biggest stage.
The formula will vary for each team to have a shot at winning. Some have been favored all season and others are underdogs getting hot at the right time.
I contacted famous alumnae from each program to provide some analysis and advice for their alma maters. The prevailing themes from each – soak in the atmosphere, compete and have fun.
Cat Osterman, Texas All-American pitcher 2002-03, 2005-06
What makes Texas a contender? They have two “why’s” that run deeper than anyone can prepare for.
The greatest hitter Texas has ever seen was staring at the end of her career, without a trip to Oklahoma City. Add fifth-year transfer Hailey Dolcini, who wanted a shot at getting to the promised land, and you have a why that propelled Texas to this point. Let’s not forget about Mary Iakopo and Lauren Burke, who followed Mike White from Oregon with the intention of helping him build Texas up. If the trip to Arkansas demonstrated anything, it was that this team will rally together to do whatever it takes
I’m sure the players are tired of hearing about it, but their second “why” is to prove that the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational performance wasn’t who they are. Their mission was to re-brand themselves, and that they did. They’ve fought back from large deficits, swept teams unexpectedly, and even got the first W against OU. They persevered through adversity with grit and a tenacity that was absent the first two weeks. While the team moved on from that week in Florida, the world did not – until now. They’re playing to show who Texas Softball is.
Texas may be as complete of a team as the program has ever seen. The Longhorns can leave the yard, but they don’t rely on it. They rank first in the NCAA with 109 doubles, and will pile them on before you know it. And if they only reach first, watch them run. It’s been eight years since the Longhorns have utilized the run game as much as they have this season.
You could name each person in the lineup – offensively, defensively and in the circle – and find a time they were key to a Texas victory. Every single athlete has stepped up in big moments. The fact each athlete can look back on the last 53 games and find a moment that their success propelled the team is game changing.
It’s no secret, Janae Jefferson has perpetually willed Texas to Oklahoma City in her last season. Key defensive plays, followed by timely offensive output were the turning points in games 2 and 3 versus Arkansas. When Janae goes, Texas goes. Her legacy is cemented, but she has one last week to add to it. Dolcini has carried Texas on her right arm and she won’t stop now. She’s matured in the circle and continues to be the emotional catalyst. She’s the piece Texas needed.
Iakopo has power. Burke’s experience has paid off in the postseason. Alyssa Washington’s emergence at shortstop not only shored up the defense, but she’s silently been an impactful offensive weapon. Mia Scott can single-handedly confuse defenses. I could go on and on. But Texas has all the pieces, and right now, at the right time, they are together.
Jennie Finch, Arizona All-American Pitcher 1999-2002
The keys are solid, consistent pitching, hitting their locations and spinning the ball like crazy. They need to keep the offense off balance with mixing in speeds — using the defense behind them and keeping the ball in the park. Defense wins championships. The offense needs to stay within themselves, be disciplined and stay hot. They need to battle one pitch at a time and believe.
They have proved everyone wrong, believed in one another and defeated the odds of making it to the biggest stage. They have shown they can do it and need to continue to stay all-in as one unit, picking each other up and continue to believe. Bear Down Arizona, Go Cats!
Natasha Watley, UCLA All-American Shortstop 2000-03
They just need to continue to be them. I think what makes them so awesome and fun to wach is they have all the ingredients. They have the pitching staff, they have the hitting, they have the speed, they have great defenders and they have a little bit of depth. It’s just a matter of everything working on all cylinders. They need consistency in the circle from Megan Faraimo and Holly Azevedo. They are the one-two punch and they have to continue to be the stoppers and main defenders because pitching is everything. Our bats have to come alive, and we have a lot of different bats in our lineup. I think what’s been fun is that it’s been different people getting the key hits throughout the season.
I definitely think they need to soak it in and take it all in. But I do know something about being a Bruin — this is where we really shine. We train to be alive in the postseason. My best advice to them is to show the Bruin way. This is my biased opinion, but I think the softball world tries to count us out. But we still prevail and we are still here fighting for another championship. I think more than anything they need to show their Bruin colors and show your Bruin way. That will get you through. We call it our Bruin magic. Show the Bruin magic and let that lead the way.
Pam Harper, Oklahoma State All-American First Baseman 1979-82
There are 286 D1 softball teams in the United States and you are now in the top 3% by earning the right to play in the 2022 WCWS. The experience is amazing and can be overwhelming, so try to absorb it all. You won’t be back to this tournament with this exact set of teammates and you will remember it for the rest of your life.
Trust your training. You’ve not only been dreaming of this moment your entire life, you’ve also been training for it. The hundreds of practices. The thousands of drills. All of the games and tournaments you’ve played in since you were probably 8 years old have prepared you for these days in Oklahoma City. This season alone you have already played and beaten three of the other seven teams who are also here. You’ve never been more ready as a player and as a team.
Trust your coaches. You were hand picked to be on this particular team of Cowgirls. Before and after your many practices with the coaches, they spend the rest of their work day studying the other teams, their players and their strategies. It is their job to make the hard decisions as to who is on the field and who is going to be ready in the dugout for the perfect situation. Trust their experience.
Finally, you have hundreds of Cowgirl Softball alumnae that are so proud of you and this team. We are sending you strength and yelling for you from our Hall of Fame seats and in front of televisions all over the world. Go Cowgirls!
DeAnn Young, Oregon State All-Pac-10 First Baseman 2006-09
The Beavers are going to need Mariah (Mazon) to continue to dominate in the circle and have continued strong defense behind her. They will need to have timely hitting and continue to run the bases aggressively. They are currently playing cohesively and are relying on each other to come up with the hits or great defensive plays. The Beavers have been underrated and I think that puts them in the driver’s seat to play their type of game and be loose on the field. Their dugout is electric and supportive and keeps the environment fun, which helps the team to play loose and get after it.
The OSU alumni are in full support. The fight, grit, bond and love for the game this team displays is everything that the players before them instilled in this program. I would tell them to continue to stay loose, have fun and respect the game of softball. Leave it all out on the field and do the little things that got you all to the World Series. Make sure to enjoy every moment and take time to look around the stadium. Trust in the Beavers and stay prepared. The game is the same. The stage may have changed, but you have trained your whole life for this. You have so many people supporting you so don’t be afraid to put all your energy into the game.
Tammy Williams, Northwestern All-American Shortstop 2006-09
I think the key for Northwestern is obviously Danielle (Williams) is going to need to show up and throw well. She speaks for herself, and her ability to throw that many pitches last weekend and still be dominant even though hitters were seeing her over and over again was so impressive. But the team just really has to zone in on what they are trying to do. They are such great athletes and the thing they do so well is they are so good at competing in the moment. They stay locked in and compete every pitch and that is what makes them so successful. As far as offensively, they need to get the big hit at the right time. I think Skyler Shellmyer is their absolute spark, and having her going is going to be really important because then that offense just flows from there. She sets the tone and gets the momentum going in their direction for one of the other players to get the big hit.
My biggest advice is I want them to know how good they are and why they are there and continue to trust all the work they have put in and go out there and battle. It is amazing how fun they are to watch and they just truly enjoy what they are doing. They just need to continue to be the fun, lovable, excited team that they are. Their energy is absolutely incredible and their emotions and reactions show just how much they love each other. It’s just contagious. They just need to keep being the team they’ve been all year and be the team everyone loves.
Shelby Pendley, Oklahoma All-American Infielder/Pitcher 2013-15
Obviously they have the talent. The biggest thing for them is they need to just stay focused. It is a big thing because you can really lose your focus in that environment. They need to make sure they stay in the moment. Whatever else they have going on in their life, they need to get rid of it and be present in that moment. A lot of them have experience on that stage and they need to use that experience to their advantage and not let the pressure get to them. The pressure is big on them right now because of how successful they have been all year and how successful they were last year. The biggest thing they can do right now is just be them.
The thing that makes this team so good is their consistency. Not only are they very, very good, but to be that consistent all year is impressive. I know in my time there we weren’t as consistent as they are. Their hitters have really evolved and only gotten better since JT (Gasso) has been there. It’s fun to watch all of them hit, not just (Jocelyn) Alo. All of their swings are so great in my mind.
Lauren Haeger, Florida All-American Pitcher/First Base 2012-15
For Florida to be successful, the Gators need everyone to play up to their abilities because it’s going to take the whole team, especially those key players to really come into their own as leaders and really lead them through the World Series. They need to make sure everyone gets on their back and they are running through that place.
We have to play defense and we have to keep the ball in the yard as a pitching staff. That is going to be super important. The ball is going to be put in play, but our defense and pitchers have to do well and our pitchers need to keep the ball in the yard.
Offensively, Coach (Tim) Walton’s preparation is going to take us a long way in regard to setting us up for success for every single person they face. That is one of the best parts about Coach Walton. He knows how to prepare teams. In my experience at the World Series, it was a whole new game plan of preparations for each team we were going to play and super detailed. That is who he is and what he’s really good at.
This team just has to buy into what is happening now. From the Virginia Tech Super Regional, it feels like they are starting to get hot and if we see those Gators they are going to be really successful. They need to just feel the passion and the grit that it takes to win the Women’s College World Series. As somebody who has won it twice, it’s about having that ‘we are not going to lose today’ mentality and wanting to be able to put on a Gator uniform for as long as you possibly can. They need to buy into each other and buy into whatever your role is, whether it’s charting pitches all year or being the first off the bench. You need to own the role you have and do it at 100 percent. The other thing is to be normal. You are the Gators, play like the Gators do. It’s just softball. It’s the same game you have been playing your entire life. Although it does get a little overwhelming with how many people are there, you need to enjoy it. It’s exactly what you’ve dreamed of since you were little and watching the Women’s College World Series on TV for the first time. It’s exactly what you would imagine it would be and take it all in and just do your best. That is all you can do at the end of the day. Stay true to who you are and do everything you can to compete on every single pitch.