The Championship Mindset

BY TIARE JENNINGS AND KINZIE HANSEN

This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

Three national titles in the last three years.

Big 12 Regular Season Champions.

Big 12 Tournament Champions.

All-Americans.

All-Big 12 First Team.

We’ve swung for the fences these last few years and have accomplished everything we set out to achieve. We’re humbled beyond belief by this success, which has surpassed our wildest imaginations.

It reflects Coach Gasso’s leadership in establishing what’s become the premier softball program in the country.

Despite all these amazing accolades and accomplishments, one in particular stands out above the rest.

The opening of Love’s Field.

To be part of the first OU softball team to play in such a state-of-the-art facility this 2024 season leaves us beyond words.

Love’s Field is setting the standard not only for softball but for women’s sports across the entire country.

But this wouldn’t be possible without the women who came before us and left a legacy that we’re honored to carry forward.

Ultimately, that’s what OU softball is all about.

We play for each other just as much as we do for future generations, so little girls watching in the stands and on TV can be inspired to wear the Crimson and Cream one day and continue the success and tradition of this incredible program.

To have done so at the best softball stadium in the country, Love’s Field, is a testament to our coaching staff, the alumni who came before us, the belief from our university, and most of all, a community that supports us and gives us opportunities we only dreamed of when we were younger.

How we do it

People often ask how the OU softball program has achieved so much success. All the victories, awards, trophies, All-Americans—what’s the secret?

Truthfully, it all boils down to culture.

The culture Coach Gasso and the rest of the coaching staff have created holds us to a standard that allows us to excel day in and day out.

Our coaches lead by example and show us how to be women not only on the field but off the field and in the classroom. Each of us understands that wearing the OU uniform is a privilege, and how we conduct ourselves on the field, in the community, and in the classroom is a reflection of the program and university.

From day one, we’ve been taught to be champions, which is why we’ve achieved the success we have.

The national championships we’ve won in each of the last three years directly correlate with the culture in place here.

What gets lost sometimes with national championship teams is no matter how many players return, it’s a new team every year. So, with incoming freshmen and multiple transfers, having that culture and setting the championship standard every single day is largely why we pulled off the three-peat and made history last season.

While the goal every year is to get to Oklahoma City and win the WCWS, we know that can’t happen without the right mindset to win the day and handle business.

That’s the kind of culture we have here in Norman that’s led to our recent success and will continue to set this program apart for years to come.

Managing expectations

We don’t expect much sympathy for the pressure and expectations that come with three straight national titles. We certainly understand that, but it can still be overwhelming.

With the 50+ win seasons and multiple championships, the bar keeps getting raised each year, leading to ‘almost impossible’ expectations.

The day we realized we had achieved every goal we set at OU—that the bar literally couldn’t be raised any higher—was when we could take a deep breath and have fun again.

Setting this championship standard is one thing, but chasing perfection is unrealistic because none of our three national title teams were perfect.

And that’s something we’ve had to come to terms with, especially this season when we’ve faced our fair share of adversity. We’ve lost more games this season than any of those championship teams did, so that messed with our psyche a bit.

Do we still have that championship DNA?

Are we good enough to complete the four-peat?

This is where our culture plays a pivotal role. Doubt and uncertainty could have impacted us all season, but Coach Gasso and the staff addressed it early on. We might not be last year’s team or the year before, and that’s okay.

That allowed us to play free because even though we lost six games this season and missed out on the regular season Big 12 Title for the first time since we’ve been here, our goals were still in front of us.

We blocked out the outside noise and focused on answering the bell. This team has been challenged more so than any OU team we’ve been on, and we couldn’t be prouder of this group for putting our heads down and going to work no matter what adversity we faced on and off the field.

Despite all of that, our goal is still to be the last team standing on June 7 at the WCWS, and we’re in position to do just that.

A potential four-peat would be worth every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears to defend our crown and once again call ourselves champions.

We play for each other just as much as we do for future generations, so little girls watching in the stands and on TV can be inspired to wear the Crimson and Cream one day and continue the success and tradition of this incredible program. To have done so at the best softball stadium in the country, Love’s Field, is a testament to our coaching staff, the alumni who came before us, the belief from our university, and most of all, a community that supports us and gives us opportunities we only dreamed of when we were younger.

Why we play

We’re beyond blessed to have played a part in continuing this program’s success and establishing OU softball as the best in the nation.

But it’s not like we see each other as anything other than a couple of girls in their early 20s living out their dreams and having the time of their lives.

We sometimes forget, amid the grind and pressures of being student-athletes at a major DI university, that we make an impact every day.

When we run errands around town and moms tell us how much we’ve inspired their daughters to believe in themselves and chase their dreams, it reminds us of the amazing platform we have.

We couldn’t be more grateful to OU for giving us this opportunity to impact families and young girls. We know we wouldn’t have these same opportunities everywhere.

Without the support of the Love family and 1,100+ donors who gave to the project, we wouldn’t be playing in the crown jewel of college softball stadiums.

It just goes to show that the Norman community and the state of Oklahoma not only care about women’s sports but also prioritize them.

While we’re sad that our collegiate careers are nearing the end, we know we still have a lot to play for as we try to make history again and complete the four-peat.

We’re going to play for the players who came before us and those who will play after us.

We’re going to play for each other with this unbreakable bond we’ve created as a family.

Most importantly, we’re going to play knowing that whatever happens, win or lose, we’ll be surrounded by love from a community that has embraced two California girls as their own and made Norman our second home.