OU softball: Three things to know about the 2021 Sooners
NORMAN — Patty Gasso described the fall as “business as usual” for her Oklahoma softball team, and she hopes the squad can keep that going as the spring season begins on Thursday in El Paso, Texas.
The fourth-ranked Sooners will play two games each against Texas-El Paso and Abilene Christian in the Miner Invitational to open the season.
Here’s a look at three things to know about the Sooners in 2021:
Giselle is back
Roughly 11 months ago, OU’s two-time All-American pitcher Giselle Juarez was recovering from biceps surgery on her throwing arm, not knowing if her college career was over.
Now, after taking it easy through the fall and ramping back up to full activity this spring, Juarez is showing the abilities of her old self.
“It feels like it’s been 10 years since I’ve seen her pitch,” Gasso said. “But we did the right thing. The doctors made the right calls. And Giselle did the right things as well. You’re gonna see her on the mound quite a bit this weekend. She’s ready to go.
“We’re still gonna take it slow and give her significant rest. But no complaints about anything that’s hurting her, and she looks like she did the last time I saw her.”
- Related to this story
- Video: OU Softball: Sooners return for first time since pandemic
In 2019, Juarez had a 28-4 record, leading the Sooners to a runner-up finish to UCLA at the Women’s College World Series. And the Sooners have redshirt senior Shannon Saile to back up Juarez and help keep her rested.
Packing the lineup
Gasso wanted to share her thoughts on her starting lineup for Thursday’s games when she met with the media on Wednesday morning, but she couldn’t.
The coach still doesn’t know how she’s going to piece her lineup together, because she has more qualified players than she can fit on her lineup card.
“(Jocelyn) Alo will be in the lineup. (Nicole) Mendes will be in the lineup,” Gasso said. “I’d like to name 12 players that will be in the lineup, so what my plan is, is to have who’s coming in for who in what part of the lineup in what inning. Because I need to play these players as much as I can. I gotta feed them innings.
“I don’t know who’s leading off right now. I have probably five options, and I just haven’t figured it out yet.”
With 23 players on the roster, Gasso says intrasquad scrimmages have been intensely competitive.
“It looks like two top-15 Division I teams playing against each other,” she said. “It’s definitely the adage of ‘iron sharpens iron.’”
Mendes’ return invaluable
Mendes has been a staple in the Sooner lineup since her true freshman year of 2017. And though she has important goals on her mind this summer — she’ll be playing for Mexico in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo — she chose to return to OU for a fifth year, as granted by the NCAA because of the pandemic.
Her value to the team is immeasurable, says Gasso.
“I think it means a lot for the program, myself and Nicole,” Gasso said. “She’s always a very good teacher on the field. She really has elevated her game. She wants to leave her legacy here at OU, besides training and getting ready for Team Mexico.
“As soon as she finishes our season, she’s off to Japan in hopes of helping Team Mexico find a way to win a gold medal.”