Before No. 1 Oklahoma’s first practice at this Women’s College World Series, the most senior members of its roster gave a speech.
This environment would not be new for most of the team. The Sooners won a championship here in Oklahoma City each of the last two years. Even for the handful of players for which it was new—the freshmen and transfers—it was hardly unexpected. Oklahoma has made a habit of deep postseason runs. The current version of the squad just may be its best ever, dazzling with pitching, hitting and fielding alike, boasting a record win streak. Another trip to the WCWS has not just been a goal this year. It has been the expectation.
Yet the most tenured players on this roster still had something to say about the setting. Grace Lyons and Grace Green had a message about what it meant to be at the WCWS. Do not take this for granted, they told their teammates.
“We told them… ‘Make sure you take it in when you walk in,’” Green says. “Look at the fans, look at the stadium, this is what you’ve dreamed of since you were eight years old. So take it all in. Don’t let it overwhelm you. But make sure you take it all in and remember.”
Lyons and Green would know. They have been to the WCWS in four of their five college seasons. (Had their sophomore season not been cut short by COVID, they would have very likely gone a fifth time, too.) They are the only two super-seniors on this team who have played their entire careers at Oklahoma. And their leadership and perspective has been key to steering the team through this competitive stretch.
Lyons, a shortstop, has racked up a slew of honors in her five years in Norman. She was a first-team All-American last year and a nominee for the NCAA’s Woman of the Year and has played with the USA women’s national team. But her team raves about her personality even more than her play.
“Grace is grace,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said of Lyons before Game 1 of the WCWS. “The word ‘grace’—cool, calm, thought-provoked. She’s a settler. She’s like, ‘Hear me, listen to me’... Her experience shows, and when she speaks, everything gets quiet and everybody listens. So it’s like having easily another coach on the field.”
When Gasso invited one of their top transfer targets, Haley Lee, to a campus visit last spring, Lyons was the only player asked to accompany the coach. That was born partially of simple convenience: Lyons happened to be on campus at the time. But it was also strategic. Gasso knew Lyons’s poise and kindness would feel welcoming to a potential transfer. It worked.
“I was a little nervous,” said Lee, who played four years at Texas A&M and has shone in her one season at Oklahoma. “But as we went on and I got to learn more about each of them, I really started to get comfortable.”
This is an area where Lyons excels—integrating new teammates into the group. She takes team chemistry seriously, and in the age of an active transfer portal, that can take more work than ever.
“Every single year, the team is different, and you kind of have to figure out how you guys want to rally each year,” Lyons said. “We still stick to that championship mindset, that’s just how the Sooner program is and the legacy has left it, but each year is so unique.”
Green, meanwhile, has seen her role change significantly over her five years at Oklahoma. She was Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2019 and started every game for the team in her pandemic-abbreviated sophomore year in 2020. But as the roster got even deeper, adding transfers and racking up championship runs, playing time was harder to come by. Green has started a combined six games in the last two years and works mostly as a bench presence now. But she’s learned to embrace that.
“I feel like people who are in my situation—who started their freshman year, did well, and then didn’t really play like that again—they could get to where they feel like they don’t matter, or something like that,” Green says. “But my teammates and coaches have been able to make me feel like I’m still very important, and I do have a big role on this team.”
Gasso echoes that: Green’s leadership is crucial.
“Underappreciated,” Gasso said when asked to describe Green on her Senior Day in April. “But the glue of this team, and I know it, but I don’t know that a lot of other people know it. So I trust her. She’s the most team-oriented player I’ve ever had.”
Gasso has built her program to focus on the little things—sketching out detailed plans for each moment of practice, encouraging players to celebrate even the smallest of victories, dissecting the minutiae of opponents. If these players seem talented enough to take some of those things for granted, well, it’s exactly because they’re so talented that their coach insists they don’t. And it’s her most veteran players she trusts to deliver that message, on and off the field, throughout the WCWS.
“I feel like it’s kind of my job to just be pretty even-keeled and be able to be there for everybody, no matter if it’s during the game or off the field,” Green says. “It means a lot to me. I love these girls more than anything. So being part of this team and being able to be one of the older ones who’s been here before just means a lot.”