A handful of fans might’ve tried to catch an Oklahoma softball player for an autograph earlier in Patty Gasso’s tenure when her team played a game in California.
Nowadays, OU is in much higher demand.
“It's honestly kind of overwhelming, because we're a very popular team on the west coast,” Gasso said. “There's lines of people that want pictures and autographs. So, it's wonderfully draining; if there is such a thing.”
The No. 4-ranked Sooners will compete in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic this weekend in Palm Springs, California — a state Oklahoma has visited for at least one tournament every season this century.
It’s a priority for Gasso, a native of Torrance, for a myriad reasons. The weather, the competition and a recruiting hotbed for softball.
TV networks have made it easier now to follow OU, as well as other elite softball programs. But young softball fans — and potentially future players — still want to see the Sooners, winners of four of the last six Women’s College World Series championships, in person.
“After games, you might have a few people,” said Gasso, recalling some of her teams’ earlier trips to California, “but now there are lines.
“Not just for us, but for a lot of teams. There's lines of kids, adults, grandparents and fans. They're just everywhere. It's rough, but wonderful.”
Both Shay Knighten and Sydney Romero were once those kids.
“I remember going out to the Palm Spring tournaments and watching [OU] play,” said Romero, a senior infielder from San Diego. “That's something I would look forward to every year, specifically watching them.
“I remember watching Keilani Ricketts, Jessica Shults, Lauren Chamberlain, Georgia Casey, and I just remember thinking, 'Man, I want to be in their shoes.’”
Knighten, of Buena Park, also recalls going to watch OU play in her home state. Playing there in a Sooner uniform is a surreal experience.
“A lot of the girls are from California, so I think it's really cool we get to be back in front of our families, kind of like a going-home celebration,” Knighten said. “But it's business as always. A business trip.”
The competition awaiting OU (9-1) includes No. 2-ranked UCLA and No. 14-ranked Arizona.
On top of the marquee early-season games, Knighten, Romero and the six other Sooners from California are going "home."
Family and friends of nearly half of OU’s roster will show up this weekend, as well as Bailey — Romero’s goldendoodle.
OU will begin the Classic with a doubleheader vs. Brigham Young at 5:30 p.m. and then UCLA at 8 p.m.
The Sooners weren’t successful in their quest for an early-season victory over defending Women’s College World Series champion Florida State last week. But they’ll get an opportunity at another top-5 win with the Bruins today.
“I like that we're right back at it against some tough competition,” Gasso said. “It's just early in the season, so I'm not afraid of losses if they come. I just want to see this team fight a little bit harder too.”
• Game 1: OU (9-1) vs. San Diego (4-4) at 5:30 p.m.
• Game 2: OU vs. UCLA (9-0) at 8 p.m.
• Place: Palm Springs, California (Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic)
• Radio: KEBC 1560 AM
• Watch online: FloSoftball
• Saturday: vs. Arizona (12 p.m. at Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic)
• Sunday: vs. Cal State Fullerton (11 a.m., at Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic) and vs. UC Santa Barbara (1:30 p.m., at Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic)