Oklahoma is champion of the college softball world for the third straight season.
They extended their historic winning streak to 53 games, a Division I record. They became the first school to lead the country in scoring, ERA and fielding percentage in the same season. And, at 61-1, they finished the year with the best winning percentage in Division I history.
Is there an end in sight? After all, Tiare Jennings, now the leader for most RBIs in WCWS history, Big 12 Player of the Year Jayda Coleman and ace Jordy Bahl all return for the Sooners next year.
Our experts break down what has stood out from Oklahoma’s run, name their favorite moments from this year’s tournament and make way-too-early predictions about who could threaten the Sooners’ dynasty in 2024.
What has stood out to you the most about the OU dynasty?
Madison Shipman: The level of consistency year in and year out has always been something that has stood out to me. Their consistency on defense, their ability to develop pitchers over their career and how the offense continues to make quick adjustments no matter which pitcher (or how many pitchers) they face in a game.
Amanda Scarborough: Their attention to detail mixed with their competitiveness. Their spring season actually starts in the fall at their team practices where they continually push each other, make each other stronger and find little ways to get better. They take that attention to detail, belief in themselves and competitiveness into the game, where they’re so hard to beat and every opponent knows they need to be perfect to win.
Jenny Dalton-Hill: Oklahoma’s mindset of continual preparation and never being content to rest on their laurels reminds me of how Coach [Mike] Candrea prepared our teams in the ’90s. When you mix an extremely talented roster with unparalleled depth, you get a unique dynamic of a blue-collar work mentality with each person pushing the people around them to be better. It’s a contagious environment that makes everyone better.
What was your favorite moment from this year’s NCAA tournament?
Shipman: I have two favorite moments. The first was watching my sister [Ally Shipman] and Alabama celebrate when they got the last out in supers to head to the WCWS. The second was Kinzie Hansen’s two-out, two-strike, game-tying home run in the top of the seventh for OU against Clemson.
Scarborough: Watching Stanford’s NiJaree Canady pitch and step up her game at the WCWS. She was just … wow. It’s not easy to perform on that stage the first time you go, and oftentimes we see pitchers who are there for the first time pitch with nerves and let the moment get too big, but not her, even as a freshman. She was absolutely amazing, and we’re lucky we get to watch her pitch for three more years.
Dalton-Hill: I too was amazed by both the Hansen home run against Clemson at supers and the consistent performance of Canady for Stanford. Another moment that stands out is the robbed home run by Kaley Mudge for Florida State in OKC. What is it about the crazy athleticism and outstanding moments we see year in and year out by the athletes in left field?
Which outgoing senior will you miss watching the most?
Shipman: I will definitely miss watching Alabama’s Montana Fouts next season. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her compete in the circle and always marveled at her ability to get stronger as the game went on.
Scarborough: I’ll miss watching and following Sydney McKinney swing the bat for Wichita State. The numbers she put up in her career were video game-like and she was such a pure hitter.
Dalton-Hill: I will miss Kayla Kowalik at Kentucky, Ashley Rogers at Tennessee, Kat Sandercock at FSU, Deja Davis at Duke, but ultimately I will miss Montana Fouts the most. She has always been a favorite of mine, and she sets the standard for how to carry yourself on the field to how you treat your teammates, how you navigate NIL, and how to stay humble and kind through it all.
Which team that didn’t make the WCWS field this year will make it in 2024?
Shipman: I was really impressed with the way Clemson competed in the super regional against Oklahoma. I think the Tigers have a good shot to make it to the WCWS with a lot of those players returning next season.
Scarborough: I think Texas. Texas was such a young team this season, and the Longhorns gained valuable experience with a corps of freshmen who were extremely talented. Word on the street is they have an incoming group of freshmen that might be even more talented than this year’s group, which is hard to believe. You add Mac Morgan returning for just her junior year and it sounds like a recipe to get back to the WCWS.
Dalton-Hill: Having Clemson match up with Oklahoma in supers seemed so unfair. Every year there’s matchups that happen before OKC that you wish could happen in the WCWS. That was one of them and if coach John Rittman continues to find players in the portal and reload his offense to support Valerie Cagle in the circle, that’s a team that will be extremely hungry.
Who is your way-too-early pick for 2024 POY?
Shipman: It’s going to be hard to compete with Valerie Cagle if she puts up similar numbers to what she did this season. She is such an impressive two-way player who showed us all what she is capable of when she is fully healthy.
Scarborough: Kiki Milloy from Tennessee. She undoubtedly should have been a top-three finalist this year but somehow missed out. She led the country in home runs with 25 and paired that with 40 stolen bases. She’s a unique, dynamic athlete, and if she has the same type of year next year that she had this year, she should be in contention to win NPOY.
Dalton-Hill: It has to be mentally challenging to come back as the reigning POY and put up the same numbers. That’s a heavy load, but I am hoping that Cagle can let the pressure of that weight go and play free in her last season. With her now pain-free and hungry to get to OKC, I would love to see her step into 2024 and stay the most consistent two-way player in the country.
Who is the biggest threat to ending Oklahoma’s reign next year?
Shipman: I am going to have to go with Stanford. NiJaree Canady is the real deal and is the only pitcher OU’s offense seemed to struggle with. When she is in the circle, the Cardinal can be dominant.
Scarborough: I have to agree with Madison about Stanford because of Canady. If Stanford can just conjure up a little more offense behind its pitching staff, it will be able to bust through. I also would put Tennessee in this mix. The Vols return a lot of key players and experience and will be able to build on the great year they had this year.
Dalton-Hill: Oklahoma is the biggest threat to Oklahoma. Keeping the ship’s course righted is always a big task with so many important cogs in the wheel needing to stay aligned. Sooners coach Patty Gasso will always stack her team with talent, but can she keep the right chemistry going where everyone is rowing in the same direction? In 2024, Madison and Amanda are right, besting Canady will be a tough task, but Oklahoma will watch her film, attack how to approach her and be better against her next season. If Canady develops a better changeup, she will be unstoppable. Imagine if she adds a dominant drop too! Nobody predicted Baylor would beat Oklahoma this season. I don’t think it’s possible to predict the hiccup for 2024.