NORMAN — The Oklahoma softball team returns three All-Americans from the team that finished as the Women's College World Series runner-up, but it's the newcomers who are stealing some of the preseason spotlight.
The No. 2-ranked Sooners, who open the season at 10 a.m. Friday in Phoenix against No. 21 Stanford, have eight new additions.
That group is highlighted by infielder Shelby Pendley. The sophomore transferred to Oklahoma after spending her freshman season at the University of Arizona, where she earned All-Pac-12 First Team honors. She will be immediately eligible to play and will likely open the season as Oklahoma's starting shortstop.
“Shelby is very athletic and versatile, so she helps solidify our infield at any position,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “She also has incredible strength at the plate.”
“The challenge for Shelby now is to learn our system and learn it quickly, which I don't think she'll have any problem with.”
Outside of Pendley, the Sooners' newcomers include seven freshmen — all of whom are Oklahoma natives. Gasso believes this group of freshmen can bring even more offensive ability to a deep and talented lineup.
“This freshman group has tremendous power,” Gasso said. “You ought to come out and watch batting practice, more balls are on the other side of the fence than in the stadium.”
When asked about the team's overall speed compared to last season's, Gasso said, “we're better. The freshmen are going to come in and bring quite a bit of speed, it's definitely something we've increased from last year.”
This group of newcomers joins an Oklahoma team that is already loaded with 13 returning letter winners from last season's 54-10 squad, including All-Americans Keilani Ricketts, Jessica Shults, and Lauren Chamberlain.
The accomplishments of those returning standouts are impressive.
Ricketts was the 2012 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year after posting a 37-9 record in the circle, and a .395 average at the plate.
Shults also brought home a major award last season, as she was named Diamond Sports Catcher of the Year.
Then there's Chamberlain, who set the Big 12 single-season home run record with 30 during her freshman season.
Ricketts and Shults have both recognized what the new talent can do for their team.
“We have a lot of freshman coming in, and they're stepping up,” Ricketts said. “That makes practice very competitive and that should carry over into an advantage in the games as well.”
“This whole freshman class is a great group of girls. They have speed, they have power, and all of them are pushing for a spot in the lineup. It's awesome at practice to see that competition,” Shults said.
For Shults, the newcomers represent a fresh start with an improved team. After falling one win short of a national title eight months ago, Shults insists the Sooners are ready to put that in the past and focus on what they can accomplish this season.
“Everyone harps on last season, but this is a new season. We have eight fresh faces that are definitely going to bring a lot to the table,” Shults said.
“I'm excited to get ready with this group and work hard every day to reach our expectations.”