Many young athletes dream of competing on a national stage at the Olympics. For the Oklahoma Christian University softball team, their dreams will become a reality April 21 when they take on the USA Softball team in an exhibition match.
For the first time since 2008, softball will be played at the Summer Olympic Games. As the USA Softball team prepares to battle the world in Tokyo this summer, they will embark on a tour across the states playing softball programs. The tour, known as the Stand Beside Her Tour, includes 27 stops, some of them located in Florida, California, Oregon and Texas.
According to the Team USA website, “The ‘Stand Beside Her’ message encourages fans everywhere to stand united in their support of the WNT and the United States in their journey to the Olympic Games.”
As a part of the Stand Beside Her Tour, USA Softball invited Oklahoma Christian’s softball team to be one of their competitors Tuesday, April 21, at AirHogs Stadium in Grand Prairie, TX, at 6 p.m.
Junior Lindsey Stoeckel said she is shocked by this opportunity.
“I didn’t even think that would be a possibility,” said Stoeckel. “I’m excited. It’ll be fun playing against some of the best girls whose careers we’ve watched, but we will be just as competitive as any other game because that’s how we play.”
Second year softball head coach Shanon Hays said the opportunity to play Team USA came originally from his brother, who coaches softball at Lubbock Christian University. USA Softball asked Lubbock to play, which interested Coach Hays in reaching out for a similar opportunity. Graduate Assistant Madison Nordyke works for USA Softball in the summer, so she made the contact and got Oklahoma Christian on the tour.
“I just think it’s neat to be able to say you played the best team in the world and to be able to help them to prepare for the Olympics,” said Hays.
Although they have never played each other, this will not be the first interaction between USA Softball and Oklahoma Christian. USA Softball is based in Oklahoma City at Hall of Fame Stadium, home of the Women’s College World Series. Because of this, USA Softball visited Oklahoma Christian several times to practice.
Coach Hays believes the addition of softball back into the Olympics will bring greater awareness and involvement from a younger generation of athletes.
“Softball right now is so popular in the United States,” said Hays. “I started coaching 12 years ago, and just in that span of time it’s incredible how much it has grown in popularity and notoriety and TV coverage. Getting it back in the Olympics, where it should have been the whole time, just helps it that much more.”
Oklahoma Christian enters the 2020 season after finishing 40-16 last year, winning the Heartland Conference title and advancing to the championship round of the NCAA Division II regional. This will be the Eagles’ first season in the Lone Star Conference, which is the “deepest softball conference in NCAA Division II.”
The Eagles will battle USA Softball in the middle of their regular season, which will provide a competitive but fun experience.
After going through fall practices and gearing up for competition this semester, Stoeckel remains confident in the team’s ability to perform well in a tougher conference.
“Our team looks really good this year,” Stoeckel said. “We have several returners and a lot of really good transfers and freshmen. I think we’ll surprise a lot of people.”
After graduating six seniors last spring, the Eagles only have two seniors on the roster; however, Coach Hays said he believes the youngness of his team will motivate them to work hard and mature quickly to fight the pace and harder competition in college softball.
“We’re a talented team—very young and unproven,” Hays said. “We’re probably a lot more physically talented than we were last year. To make a dent in the Lone Star Conference, we need to mature early. I think if we come together and stay healthy we’ll be pretty good.”
Tickets for the game between Oklahoma Christian and USA Softball on April 21 go on sale next Monday, Jan. 13. Reserved seats will be $25 and general admission is $10.