Former OU softball pitcher
Growing up, Oklahoma's greatest pitcher, who is also one of softball's two-time National Player of the Year award winners, loved SpongeBob SquarePants.
Keilani Ricketts was so enthralled with the cartoon she used the word “obsessed” twice when talking about it.
“I had all these posters on my wall and all these different SpongeBob pillows,” she said.
The cartoon posters hung on her wall next to a poster of her other obsession: softball. Former Arizona star pitcher Jennie Finch was outstretched in her famous throwing motion on that poster.
While the Finch poster may have pushed Ricketts to become a better, tougher softball pitcher, it was a yellow cartoon sponge that got her to relax. And this year, while winning the NCAA championship, Ricketts learned that relaxing makes all the difference.
I just try to be better than anyone else. I've just always told myself that.
I'm the youngest of four, so I grew up in a really athletic family. Played basketball, softball, I swam, played volleyball. I was just always brought along to watch my older siblings play sports.
Looking up to them, I just became a competitive person and I wanted to be like them.
My parents saw my potential in softball as a pitcher, so they were kind of pushing me that way.
Never quit anything I started. There would be times that basketball and softball were tough, but my parents wouldn't let me quit at all. And looking back I just really thank them for that, now I have that kind of mentality.
I feel like I was the athletic kid in my class. Always busy doing sports. I was in girl scouts, but I was always missing stuff because of sports.
The weather wasn't as drastic in California as it is out here. We had winter and it was a little chilly and I thought that was winter, until I came out here and experienced winter with the snow and wind and ice.
Softball is really competitive out there because we play all year round. We're always competing with fall ball and practice in the winter and then spring and high school ball and then travel ball in the summer. We were always with the team.
My mom is Samoan. In their culture you respect your elders very much and you do a lot of chores, clean a lot.
I love Samoan pancakes. They're awesome. It's like this fried ball. It's really fried and crispy.
We really got close to our culture two years ago. Me and my sister got the chance to do a softball clinic in Samoa. That was really cool to be able to learn a lot more the kind of traditions they have and the way the kids are raised there.
I didn't really take the sport as seriously until I got about 16 years old, but I just went out and had fun with my friends. I just loved being out here with all my close friends.
You're always singing all these little songs in the dugout, and you're out there with your friends in the dugout. I think that's the biggest thing, that I wasn't serious all the time.
At Oklahoma, I learned how competitive softball is. It just made me grow and mature as a softball athlete.
Coach (Patty) Gasso taught me how to handle tough situations. She made me a stronger athlete because she was there with me. She challenged me and challenged my throwing out there.
Coming out of high school, because I was the National Player of the Year in high school, it was a totally and completely different game because of the mental stuff. It used to be so much easier in high school. Having so many games and being the No. 1 pitcher for OU, I had to compete harder and compete to be better because there were so many good pitchers my freshman and sophomore years.
I just learned so much about myself my freshman and sophomore year, about who I was as a pitcher. I was able to become a tougher pitcher mentally and that helped me my past two years.
Yeah, my freshman year I felt like cracking from the pressure a lot. There was a lot of pressure and I put a lot of pressure on myself. I had a lot of meetings with Coach Gasso and Coach (Melyssa) Lombardi (OU's associate head coach) to help me go through it.
Looking back at it, it's so amazing to see how great our team was this year. Our team was just legit. And the way we won it was cool. It wasn't just one or two girls that won it. It was the bottom of our lineup getting the clutch hits. It was our No. 2 pitcher getting the shutout. Our team had so many different weapons. It's cool to be able to have that kind of season and it's kind of sad that I might never be on a team like that anymore. Well, actually, I'll never be on another team like that.
Pitching is a fun game. When I don't put pressure on myself, it's just kind of a fun game to have pitching to certain batters. When I have my pitches working I'm like, “Oh, OK, let me try this one against them.”
When people say good job or people high-five me after I strike out, it's like, “No. I just struck out. That's not a good job.”
I probably shouldn't be telling the paper that.
Having pressure on yourself, it never turns out good in the long run.
I just told myself someone else could be out working more than me. I wanted to work harder than anyone else and I wanted to have better pitches than anyone else.
Trust your teammates as well. It's a team game and you can't win the game by yourself.