Lauren Chamberlain has the opportunity to shine in her debut with the USA Softball Women's National Team.
As the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Chamberlain hit a conference- and Oklahoma-record 30 home runs, only to finish in second place nationally in homers in 2012.
In her sophomore season, she led the NCAA with 30 homers and was one of three finalists for the National Collegiate Player of the Year Award, but was trumped by teammate Keilani Ricketts, who won the honor in 2012 as well.
Ricketts, who completed her collegiate career this year, announced she will not be a member of Team USA in 2013, however. That's Chamberlain's cue. And this is her first chance to truly be the star.
“I’m not really trying to prove something, but at the same time, I’m always just trying to be a better version of myself,” the 20-year-old said. “I think that’s the most important thing for me is just to improve on my game for myself and to see how good I can get."
“There’s always the mental side of hitting that I can improve on. Thinking more situationally; I think I can definitely improve on that. I really believe being on this USA team with the older players that have a lot experience with the game that they can help me improve my mental side of the game."
With two seasons left, Chamberlain is on pace to beat Stacy Nuveman's NCAA record of 90 home runs.
This season alone she became just the second player in NCAA Division I history to have multiple 30-homer seasons, joining Arizona's Laura Espinoza, who had 30 in 1994 and 37 in 1995.
The records aren't Chamberlain's priority, though. She's been dreaming of being on the national team since she was a little girl, and the goal is still to bring home the gold.
“When I was in third grade, I wrote down that I want to play for the National Team,” Chamberlain said. “So when I found, out my dad was kind of emotional. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment, and so has he. I kind of forgot that it wasn’t just me that was waiting for it; it was also my family."
Chamberlain, a first baseman for Team USA, made the transition from the junior team to Team USA with her Oklahoma teammate and roommate Destinee Martinez.
Both are making their first appearance with the national team, but they also played on the 2010 and 2011 U.S. Women's Junior National Team together. That team won gold medals at the Pan American Championship and World Championship in South Africa.
Martinez said what makes Chamberlain so good is her team-first attitude.
“I've grown up with her, we got to play on the Junior Team together,” Martinez, an outfielder for Team USA, said. “We've just grown together, we've known each other, (and) we've gotten really close.
“I know that she puts a lot of work into her at bats. I know that every one of her at bats is like a team at bat: She's willing to take the balls if they're balls or hit it out of the park if she needs to. She's willing to drop a bunt if she needs to, and she's just really selfless. More of it is for our team and not so much herself. I think that's why she's where she's at.”
Team USA coach Ken Eriksen said what he's liked about Chamberlain so far is her consistency. He said the team as a whole is composed of humble and humorous players, and said one's ability to not take everything so seriously is important, because that means the highs are never too high, and the lows are never too low.
“It doesn't matter if you're playing in the national championship game, at Oklahoma University, it doesn't matter if you're going out to practice, it doesn't matter if you meet her in a supermarket, Lauren Chamberlain is the same,” Eriksen said. “And that steadiness as a person is going to lend itself to a lot of success. I like the way she's able to implement humor in her approach to everything. But I believe that's real key in any successful organization.”
When she was looking at schools, Chamberlain was convinced to look at OU by her former travel ball teammate Jessica Shults. In high school, the duo had played on the Worth Firecrackers in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Chamberlain said Shults encouraged her to visit the campus, and when she finally did, she said she fell in love with it.
Shults may not have known it then, but Chamberlain would break many of her own records.
In 2010, Shults hit 15 home runs, which broke the Oklahoma record for homers by a freshman. Chamberlain obliterated that number in 2012, hitting twice as many long balls, while also setting the mark for the conference.
Shults, an All-American catcher, was also the Sooners' and Big 12's all-time career leader in home runs with 59. She would watch that record go down as well.
“She was so supportive of me all year, and I give a lot of kudos to her for how comfortable I was right off the bat coming into college,” Chamberlain said. “She allowed me to settle in pretty well as soon as I got there. I’ve always looked up to her and her hitting, so I shape a lot of the way I do things behind her. ...I respect as her player, and she really helped shape who I am today.”
After overcoming a 3-0 deficit in the bottom of the 11th inning of a Women's College World Series game, Oklahoma entered the bottom of the 12th with the game tied at 3.
Brianna Turang led off with a double down the left-field line, which brought Chamberlain to the plate next.
She sent the first pitch she saw over the left-field fence and just on the fair side of the foul pole, and the Sooners beat Tennessee, 5-3, in the first game of the championship series.
“Honestly, I thought it was going to go foul; I really did,” Chamberlain said. “I was going down the first base line, and I was like ‘Please stay fair, please stay fair,’ and then it stayed fair, and then I saw everyone’s hands go up, and everyone started freaking out, and that was it.
“The feeling of that 60th one was completely euphoric, and I will never forget it. ...Yeah, that was a special one for me.”
Chamberlain is taking each of the four days one step at a time. She wants to win gold, but she also wants to enjoy her first time on the National Team.
The spotlight is on her now, and the stage is set for her best performances.