Oklahoma City – Its Oklahoma players were planning hard and clear, as all newly crowned champions do when they want to shower their coach with an ice bath. One grabbed Patty Jasso by the waist to hold her in place on the right side of the court, and three others lifted the cooler.
Gasu stopped resisting and raised her hands, letting the cold water and ice cubes wash over her, playing her part in the now yearly national tournament ritual. It was her third course in a row. No one in Division I softball has done that in over 30 years. Only one program has captured three consecutive national titles: UCLA, from 1988 to 1990.
Save a place in the record books for those atop the Oklahoma Sooners, who claimed a three-peat Thursday night with a 3-1 win over #3 Florida State, extending their Division I winning streak to 53 games. Oklahoma has now won five titles in the past seven seasons and six in the last ten years.
“It seems impossible, right?” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was stunned moments after the clips fell.
Jasoo herself will tell you. Sometimes it wasn’t possible. it was hard. Isolation was. There was not much joy in her voice as she spoke to reporters an hour after she had done exactly what everyone expected of her: win another national title. her seventh.
“The way I feel free now is because the expectations are overwhelming, and the pressure is overwhelming,” she said slowly. “It was really the hardest (title race) I’ve ever had to do just because there are so many fans and the growth of the sport comes with so much pressure. I think I felt that.
“Everyone is out to get us out. They want to bring down the evil empire. … The fact that we got here, and won this is mind-boggling, with all the pressure wave etc. I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”
Florida State coach Lonnie Alameda said her friends told her they were rooting for the Seminoles because they didn’t think it was good for softball for one team to win titles all the time. “It just felt like, like, taking the machine down,” she said.
People really believe that these gains are automatic. For Gasso, the 2023 season has been just a blur of people telling her, well, if you win five more games, you’ll make history. If you win three more than that, you do. Four more after that, you’ll make it happen. And by the way, never lose a game again. 53 in a row. 61-1 final record. It’s still not enough. And fans, even some of those who celebrated in the stands Thursday night, grumbled that the Sooners didn’t win by big enough margins this season. The games were very close. Require additional roles? What happened to the running umpire’s victories? The expectation was not just perfect. It was the best version of perfection.
“Like, I just want to go to Costco and shop and nobody cares that I’m there,” Jasso said. “The fans in Oklahoma are so great. Our fans are amazing. But it’s starting to feel like you’re getting a little suffocated because everyone wants something. I just want to work out. I want to just be a regular person. Suddenly, your life isn’t regular anymore.”
It will never be again. Gasu is a legend in a sport that she personally helped elevate. Its successes are drawing comparisons to great dynasties in all sports, along with the likes of Geno Auriemma’s UConn teams or John Wooden’s UCLA. What you do is hard to do, although many people think it is easy. You get the best athletes, the best players, and turn them into the best-knit group in the country. It sounds simple, but it is one of the hardest things you have to do as a coach. Lists that look good on paper can fail in the field for any number of reasons.
“I need a thesaurus to find more superlatives to describe it,” Castiglione said. “It pulls each team into its own shape. Although there are players who go from year to year, they are all individual and different teams. To be able to run and do things you didn’t think possible – you just have to really appreciate the moment. It’s very hard.” make it happen.”
And then she has to do it all over again. Gasso will wake up tomorrow and her life will be no different than it was a week ago when she picked up six titles instead of seven. She’ll only put on the armor because she knows she’s wearing it and goes back to the world that expects her and takes so much from her.
Why do you keep doing that? What drives her after all these years and all she has already achieved? She pointed to the empty seats where her players had just sat.
“Hmm,” she said, sobbing. “I want to be the best for them because they trust me. They are sticking with me, so I need to give it back to them. I need to return them to their parents. … They are your family, and you promise their parents that you will take care of them, so you take care of them. But you push them. I push them like a coach, but also like a mother taking care of her kids. If I have to discipline them, I discipline them. I raise them as if they were my own.”
So she can’t stop. not now. It’s not her job, it’s her life, and she can’t imagine doing anything else. At least, not for a few more years (and you have to guess, a few more titles).
“I like competition,” said Gasu, her voice strengthening. “I love when it’s hard.”
It’s what makes her great, and it’s what made the greatness she achieved this season painful on a personal level. Nothing is easier than here, and Jasoo doesn’t expect it. But that’s what Oklahoma’s Standard of Excellence requires, and that’s what it’s willing to offer this program. This is her family. This is her life.
Next season is just around the corner, after all. Another ice bath awaits.
(Photo: Ian Maule/Getty Images)
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