NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso was effusive in her praise for the outgoing senior class at OU after the Sooners earned the program’s second national title on Tuesday. The four seniors — Keilani Ricketts, Jessica Shults, Michelle Gascoigne and Brianna Turang — formed the core of a team that came one win short of a championship last year and took that next step a few days ago.
Gasso said she was proud of her team and excited to see them finally win a title. But watching one of those players hoist the trophy was an especially sweet experience for the long-time coach.
“The fact that Jessica Shults is holding a national championship trophy will always be something that I cherish, because I didn’t know that she was going to play again,” Gasso said. “She’s been our captain for the last two years, and she has got quite an infectious personality that just makes you want to play around her and be better.”
It was two years ago that Shults was watching her teammates compete in the Women’s College World Series as she sat on the sidelines, recovering from pan ulcerative colitis, a devastating disease that she struggled with through most of her sophomore year.
The effect on OU’s catcher was clear and dramatic, as her numbers dropped like a rock through the second half of the season before she was diagnosed. And taking the field in the postseason a year later was emotional for the Sooners’ most vocal leader.
“From watching in the hospital last year, I kind of took it all for granted,” she said in 2012. “It’s just an honor to be back out on the field.”
It’s an honor that she seized upon, returning to form this season as she batted .281 and brought in 45 RBIs. And she excelled in her last trip to the World Series, batting in three runs during the tournament and being named to the All-Tournament team for her work both at the plate as well as behind it, where she guided Ricketts and Gascoigne to an undefeated record en route to the title.
She also brought that same “don’t take anything for granted” attitude to a team that was expected ever since losing in last year’s title game to take home the championship at the end of this season. It was a burden that the Sooners said wore on them at times, but one they ultimately overcame with the help of Shults’ leadership.
“We all believed in each other,” she said. “We all worked so hard all year long. Not to take anything for granted, to just work together and trust in what we have and trust what our coaches have been telling us all along will work.”
It did, and the Sooners have a national championship to show for it.
“This is what you dream about your entire life,” Shults said. “I wouldn’t want to do it with any other seniors by my side. We came in here like a goofball bunch and now we’ve matured and we’re leaving as women.”
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