NORMAN — Two years ago, Shelby Pendley was leading the Arizona Wildcats as a freshman, earning All-Pac 12 honors while becoming the next star-in-the-making from the storied program. Meanwhile, Kelsey Stevens was still a high school student in Albuquerque, N.M., leading Volcano Vista to a pair of state titles.
Pendley was excelling at Arizona. Stevens was a lifelong Stanford fan and committed to play for the Cardinal, a match seemingly made in softball heaven. The two seemed destined to square off in the Pac-12 for years to come, continuing a rivalry that they grew up with playing youth softball in New Mexico.
Today, both will put on an Oklahoma journey as they square off against Tennessee with a trip to the Women’s College World Series on the line, two unlikely transfers playing in an unlikely place.
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Pendley was the first to impact the college game. Her freshman season at Arizona produced gaudy numbers and a series of accolades. She started every game for longtime coach Mike Candrea and was a boon to an Arizona program that owns eight national titles but hasn’t made the World Series since 2010. Her 19 home runs and 55 RBIs earned her All-Pac 12 honors.
But all was not well behind the scenes. Pendley battled injury after injury throughout the season while struggling in her new environment. Despite the numbers she was putting up, she wasn’t happy in her surroundings.
“You’re supposed to have fun when you’re playing,” Pendley said last season of her time at Arizona. “If your dream isn’t fun you just probably shouldn’t do it anymore. Toward the end of my freshman year when I was hurt and dealing with all the injuries, it just wasn’t fun anymore.”
As that season drew to a close, the nagging injuries were still there. So, too, was a sense of being overworked as she struggled through rehab and practice. By the time the season ended — a sweep in the Super Regional at the hands of eventual World Series runner-up Oklahoma — Pendley knew she was done with the program she grew up watching.