The Oklahoma softball team knows it has a target on its back. That comes with the territory when you’re the defending national champion.
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As the Sooners enter the 2022 Women’s College World Series as the nation’s No. 1 team, the program’s culture of faith is helping the players keep their focus and avoid any outside pressure or distraction. The team has embraced “AO1” as its mantra this season, meaning it’s playing for an “Audience of One.” The “One,” of course, is Jesus.
This helps them remember who they’re playing for, why they play the game, and the teammates they’re playing with, team chaplain Sarah Roberts told Sports Spectrum.
“You can focus on the waves hitting you, or you can focus on the God holding you,” said Roberts, a recent guest on Sports Spectrum’s “Inside the Chapel” podcast. “But it’s your choice. We’ve talked about, ‘Where is your focus today?'”
Always good to be back face to face… these girls are amazing and pretty good at softball too! Love them so much! pic.twitter.com/YuRDNCoP7u
— Sarah L Roberts (@fcatrophywife) May 14, 2022
The Sooners (54-2) are the heavy favorites to win the title, but the two teams that beat them this season — Texas and Oklahoma State — are also in the field. If Oklahoma wins its first game of the double-elimination portion on Thursday against No. 9 Northwestern, it could face Texas in the second round. Oklahoma State, which knocked off the Sooners in the Big 12 championship game, could be there waiting in the best-of-three championship series.
All the while the Sooners have been dominating on the field, this year’s chapels have focused on playing for Jesus and what it means to be a good teammate, Roberts said. They’ve broken down Bible stories about David and what it means to go to battle with someone and for someone. They’ve studied the story from the Book of Luke about the 10 lepers and what it looks like to be the one who makes Jesus the center of what they do.
They’ve even watched a famous speech from comedian Michael Junior entitled, “Know Your Why.”
This year’s team has been successful, though, because of its Christian leadership, Roberts said. That starts at the top with head coach Patty Gasso, now in her 28th season at the helm for Oklahoma. The program doesn’t get to where it is spiritually without a strong spiritual leader, said Roberts, who is in her 17th year working with Gasso.
“Her faith is really what leads this team,” Roberts said. “Her faith is what allows me to do what I do, but she spearheads it. I just want people to understand that. They may see all the glory, but they don’t see how much she truly loves the Lord and these kids. They don’t see the story behind it a lot of times.”
Throughout Gasso’s career, numerous players have come to know the Lord under her leadership and have given their lives to Christ. That trend continued this year. Sophomore second baseman Tiare Jennings and sophomore left fielder Alyssa Brito (a transfer from Oregon) both gave their life to Christ and got baptized this season.
And sophomore center fielder Jayda Coleman announced on Instagram that she gave her life to Christ on Easter Sunday and plans to be baptized after the season ends.
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This year’s team is similar to past teams in that it boasts a large number of believers on the roster. One difference this year, Roberts said, is how many of those are not just Christians, but Christian leaders. She pointed to the three captains — seniors Grace Lyons, Jana Johns and Lynnsie Elam — as people who have spearheaded this mission and helped cultivate the personality and character of the team while leading with their faith.
When other students their age might be going out or hanging out with friends, Roberts said those three are using their time to speak at churches, Fellowship of Christian Athletes rallies, or other events that allow them to share the Gospel.
“This is their purpose, to lead others to Christ through the game of softball,” Roberts said. “That’s their purpose.”
They’re also being challenged regularly by the adults in the program, like Gasso and Roberts. This year, specifically, has been about where their focus lies.
“Is it on social media? Is it on the pedestal that the world has you on, or is it on the platform that God has given you? It’s really keeping our focus on Jesus,” Roberts said. “Practically, how do you do that? One of the things that we’ve talked about is, it is hard to fall off man’s pedestal when your face is already on the ground before God.
“So, practically, what does that look like? Before God, when you start your day, are you scrolling social media, or are you praying? Are you opening up your notifications, or are you opening up the Word of God? This is how we keep our focus on not who the world says we are, but who God says we are.”
Roberts hopes that when people watch these Sooners play that they see the work God is doing in the hearts of the players, who also badly want to win.
“He literally has used the game of softball to bring these girls to a program where Jesus is the center, and He used the program to grab their heart,” she said.
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