NORMAN — Following their Super Regional-clinching victory against Arizona on Saturday, the Oklahoma players ran out to the center-field wall to touch the panel honoring the 2000 Sooner squad that won the national championship.
This has been an almost daily routine during practice since August. But Saturday, Keilani Ricketts, Georgia Casey and Jessica Shults yanked the giant sign off the wall, and the entire team got under it and carried it off the field.
“One of the coolest things I've ever seen,” coach Patty Gasso said. “I will always remember that moment.”
Never mind that these Sooners were in elementary school when OU won the Women's College World Series for the first and only time 12 years ago. The connection they feel with the 2000 club is a deep one.
This group respects those Sooners. And this group, which begins its own WCWS run against South Florida at noon Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, wants to be like those Sooners.
“We know a lot about it, just because it's a big part of the history of this program,” Ricketts said. “Our ultimate goal is to be where that 2000 team was.”
There are constant reminders of that title-winning squad scattered throughout the OU Softball Complex. Pictures of All-Americans like Ashli Wigington (formerly Barrett) and Jennifer Stewart. Framed newspaper clippings from the victory over UCLA that captured the championship.
The current Sooners even broke out shorts, rather than traditional softball pants, for Saturday's contest in a special nod to the 2000 team.
But their most direct link to 2000 are two women who have been key parts of both squads — Gasso and volunteer assistant Lisa Carey, the 2000 team's big slugger. The current Sooners have not been shy about asking questions about the past, and Gasso and Carey have been open to sharing their experiences.
“I feel like part of that team is almost with (Carey), because she was such a big impact on that team,” OU outfielder Brianna Turang said. “She led them. Having her out here kind of gives us a feel of how she was.
“Her and Coach Gasso always say (the 2000 team) never gave up. They were confident, but not cocky. They just had the will to win, and they did.”
Gasso didn't hesitate to call this season's squad the best she's had since the 2000 bunch. And the formula for each team's success has featured similar ingredients.
A dominant pitcher in Stewart or Ricketts. A powerful lineup, led by a home run queen in Lauren Chamberlain or Carey. A solid group of local players. Intangibles like strong work ethic and natural chemistry, something that isn't always present with young women.
“Most of all, we just all respect each other,” Gasso said. “They have been such an easy team to manage. They get their job done in the classroom. They do the right thing off the field and they just connect.
“When girls go out to eat, certain ones want to be with certain ones. Here, you can pull their names out of a hat.”
Gasso even said that both the 2000 and 2012 teams came together around the same time — mid-March. That's when Gasso made the final tweaks to her 2000 lineup. And that's when Georgia Casey returned from an ankle injury this season and became the final piece of the 2012 team.
Those 2000 Sooners have kept tabs on this season's bunch, as well. Wigington wrote on Ricketts' Facebook wall thanking her for the shout out and telling her to keep wearing the shorts in Oklahoma City. Carey said she got chills when she watched the players carry the 2000 championship sign off the field.
But during this week's running drills, the Sooners have instead touched the wall right next to that national title panel.
That's where they hope to add their own championship banner — creating their own legacy yet adding the final link to the club they've admired and aspired to become.
“We're touching those panels to remind ourselves, ‘Five games and we got this,'” Turang said. “We're just starting to realize, ‘Guys, we can actually win a national championship.'”