STILLWATER – Despite facing possibly the toughest schedule in college softball, Kenny Gajewski and his coaching staff’s biggest task might be putting out a lineup card each game.
Gajewski and Oklahoma State have the rare problem of an overabundance of talent to try to fit into 10 spots each contest. That’s what happens after years of climbing the mountain before a breakthrough Women’s College World Series last year, with top-tier recruiting classes and blue-chip transfers culminating in this 2020 squad.
It is a team Gajewski and his players think might be the best in over 40 years of Cowgirl softball.
“We’ve got a lot of kids back, and we’ve got a lot of newcomers,” Gajewski said at the team’s preseason media day. “And so, I think it’s just blending this group together has been the biggest challenge so far. And I think part of that issue is, this is the most talented we’ve ever been, but part of that ongoing dilemma all fall is with as much talent as we’ve had here, this is the most that we’ve had here. It brings out a different side of people. It’s called competitiveness.”
In the outfield is going to be where Gajewski and his crew will get to play with lineups a bit, but returning-wise he has three strong contenders in sophomore Chyenne Factor along with juniors Michaela Richbourg and Chelsea Alexander.
Factor’s play in both the outfield and at the plate makes her a fixture in center field for years to come. Richbourg will most likely slot in at left as the Broken Bow native’s bat is too explosive to keep out of the lineup, with Gajewski saying she can hold her own in the outfield.
“She runs surprisingly well. Her and (Sydney) Pennington both run better than you could ever think. It’s crazy,” Gajewski said. “And she just seems to be the right spots. You know, I mean, and Factor in, in center field and Alexander’s right on the cusp again, like she always is. And we got some others out there as well. You know, I mean, it’s, it’s kind of fun to watch.”
Alexander, whose speed in the field is unmatched, will have to fight off contenders because of her work at the plate.
The Latta High School product has continued to earn time over the years after being lightly recruited, but it will be a tough challenge with the number of hitters Gajewski is trying to cycle in.
One who might get playing time in the field early is junior Haley Busby, who transferred from Virginia, where she hit nearly .400 last season for the Cavaliers.
“Really thinking about her being the DP and we decided to take a look at our outfield and when I watched her throw and move, I was like, pretty good,” Gajewski said of Busby. “It’s a good arm we got out there, and a kid has got a good softball IQ.”
Looking to get in the outfield will be players like senior Shalee Brantley, sophomore Mady Lohman and freshman Jule Callaham.
Rounding out the batting order at designated player will most likely be Sydney Springfield, who after multiple shoulder injuries is healthy. Before Alysen Febrey transferred, Springfield looked like she might slot in at first. Springfield had clutch hit after clutch hit down the stretch last year in spare time after transferring in from Louisiana State.
The 5-foot-11 redhead has earned the spot of DP like pretty much every player in the OSU rotation, with her bat, on a team where competition is thriving right now.
“So by hitting, it’s creating some different unique challenges, but if you hit you’re gonna play, and that’s what I’ve always told them all,” Gajewski said. “So we’re not settled.
“I just don’t know where they’re all going to come from yet, you know, but Richbourg is going to have another great year and I think Pennington’s gonna have as good a year, as she’s had without a doubt, and all these kids should be a little bit better as we go along.”
The Ada News edited this story to focus on the Oklahoma State outfield, since junior Chelsea Alexander — a former Latta High School All-State — is part of that unit.