STILLWATER — Chelsea Alexander didn’t know why she ever thought she would make it as she sorrowfully asked her parents for advice.
Alexander was at an Oklahoma State summer softball camp for yet another year, chasing after a dream that she was starting to realize was just a dream and nothing more.
The Latta High School product knew she wasn’t the star or flashy player on her high school team, but she felt like her work ethic was at least worth something. But, summer after summer, she would return home from camp empty-handed.
Alexander kept getting older as her fellow campers would always ask the same questions.
“How old are you?
“How are you not committed yet?”
So here Alexander was, at what she thought would be her final camp, and crying to her parents that maybe college softball just wasn’t in the cards.
Alexander called her parents on a Thursday night. On Friday, she was participating in drills in the outfield when OSU coach Kenny Gajewski walked over to Alexander to tell her to make sure her parents were in Stillwater on Saturday.
Gajewski was offering her a scholarship.
She had finally won him over.
The offer was validation for the girl who had never thought of playing anywhere else. The next day, Alexander’s parents, Daimon and Joey, came to Cowgirl Stadium for the day their daughter had waited for years to come.
“It was big-time, and I felt like I was on Cloud 9,” Alexander said. “After the scrimmage on Saturday, he called me out in the locker room and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ I felt like I was some hotshot.”
No longer would the questions about her age come from the younger campers. The only question Alexander had to worry about then was a simple yes or no inquiry, though it was never in doubt.
“We like you, and I want you to come play for us. I know you need some time to think about it,” Gajewski said.
Alexander looked at her parents, who gave her an approving look.
“Can I say yes now?” Alexander asked Gajewski.
“You want to say yes now?’” Gajewski said in disbelief.
While it might have seemed like Gajewski had experienced a sudden epiphany, the fact was Alexander had won over the third-year coach of the Cowgirls.
Gajewski will be first to admit that he didn’t know what the 5-foot-7 spitfire was doing coming to camp after camp.
“She was a kid that we really tried to get to go to a different school because we didn’t have the room for her or the spot for her,” Gajewski said. “But she was persistent and continued to get better.”
The persistence Alexander possessed had come after she briefly flirted with not playing softball a few years before.
Alexander’s high school of Latta, on the outskirts of Ada deep in the heart of Pontotoc County, is known as a baseball powerhouse, with 12 state championships to its name.
However, the Panthers had yet to have the same title success on the softball field.
While Alexander doesn’t think she was the star of the team in her high school days, she was dependable and even earned an All-State in slow-pitch, though she professes it isn’t as impressive as a fast-pitch designation.
She loved playing for her high school team but didn’t quite have her heart set on playing travel ball. For softball players, playing on those traveling teams in the summertime is a way for them to get noticed, especially if they are coming from a 2A school like Alexander was.
However, the summertime exhibitions had not been agreeing with Alexander, and she decided she would just concentrate on high school.
In the meantime, Alexander and the Panthers finally broke through to win the state championship in her senior season, putting a gold ball in their trophy case to build off of.
To add to it, Alexander earned the more prestigious fast-pitch All-State jacket in the process.
“I think we have always had a lot of talent through my high school career, but we were never able to finish out a season until my senior year, when we finally won state,” Alexander said. “It felt amazing.”
While Alexander had proved to herself that she had talent, it still wasn’t enough to convince her to pick the travel ball up until Gajewski approached her at one of the camps.
“OSU was the only camp I was coming to, just here,” Alexander said. “He just told me that I had to get bigger, faster and stronger. He told me, ‘You really need to be playing. You can’t just play high school.’”
Gajewski got Alexander hooked up with the Gametime Stars before she followed her coach to the Fastpitch Futures program, both in Oklahoma City.
Since Alexander had finally had some validation from Gajewski and she was playing softball purely for the love of the sport again, she thrived in travel ball.
During her final OSU camp, she was in the middle of her best week she had ever had. Yet, she hadn’t heard anything from the brass and broke down to call her parents. Little did she know that Gajewski had, in fact, noticed her and realized it was time to bring her on board.
“If you’ve got tools, you’ve got tools, and she has tools,” Gajewski said. “You just have to play against better competition and face better pitching. She has done that and is never overmatched. You just have to continue to grind. She is a tough, tough kid and has been brought up well. She is not afraid of the moment and when you put all that together, good things really happen.”
Alexander thinks both her overall improvement in talent, as well as the fact that OSU was the only school on her list and she was coming to Stillwater, softball or no softball, was a big selling point for Gajewski.
“I grew up an OSU fan, my dad graduated here,” Alexander said. “We would come up to games as softball fans when I was growing up and, for a while, the program fell off. It wasn’t really a thought in my mind to play here until coach came. He started building the program back up. I still love the school, but Cowgirl Softball didn’t feel right to me until they came back. I wanted to be a part of that. I thankfully got the opportunity to.”
And Alexander has made the most of the opportunity, going from a player Gajewski initially thought would be a pinch runner her freshman year to now starting in left field.
With Sydney Pennington and Raquel Dominguez, Alexander is one of the few freshmen to start a game this year. Alexander has started eight games in left field, replacing Pennington, who moved to shortstop.
The first start Alexander had in her college career was in the Cowgirls’ first day at home of the season in a matchup against Maine on March 2. It was a day Alexander didn’t even know she was starting because she hadn’t thought to look at the lineup card.
“I went to run off the field to head to the dugout,” Alexander said. “Coach yelled at me and said, ‘Chelsea, what are you doing?’ I looked around and wondering what he was talking about. He said, ‘Did you even look at the lineup?’ Coach (Stacie Pestrak) then yelled, ‘You’re in left field,’ I didn’t really have a lot of time to prepare, so it was just go in and play.”
So far, Alexander has held her own in the seventh spot in the batting order, and No. 55 has become a staple in left field.
Alexander is hitting .323 with 10 RBIs and three steals for the No. 23 Cowgirls, with 11 putouts in the field.
The freshman thinks it is great Gajewski has put enough trust in her that he has the confidence to start her, but Alexander also knows that she can’t only be content. Her spot isn’t guaranteed, as she will have to continue earning it day in and day out.
“Having that spot as a freshman, I don’t really see it as my spot,” Alexander said. “I just want to help the team. When I go out there, I don’t think I am entitled to it. I just want to do what it takes to succeed and if it means that I’m not out there a game or an inning, as long as we are doing good, that’s how I see it. I just want to help.”’
Gajewski is happy he decided to take a chance on Alexander. Not only has she thrived on the field but also in the classroom, as she is already a sophomore academically. Majoring in university studies with minors in ag leadership, coaching science and recreation therapy, Alexander is testing all the waters right now.
She would have come to OSU anyway, for she is hoping to start another Special Olympics-esque program with the school for something that she has always been involved with. Her younger brother Caden has Down Syndrome, so special education has always been important to her.
While Alexander has come so far and her story has been one that Gajewski said he will tell the tale for years to come, she still has a long way to go. But after coming so far already, nothing seems to tough a task for her.
“She’s a great kid, it’s a great story and she comes from a great family,” Gajewski said. “She is a good teammate. You are excited for those types of kids. It’s fun to watch them perform and do the things that they dream about. She has wanted to play at OSU her whole life, and it is really fun to watch.”