Boasting the best start in program history, the Oklahoma Christian University softball team currently sits at 12-1 as they enter conference play Feb. 21.
Under new head coach Shannon Hays, Oklahoma Christian sits on only one loss in 2019, losing to Texas Women’s University, 4-3, at home Feb. 11.
According to senior transfer Brie Dunckel, Hays brings a specific passion for winning to the program, which has led to a lot of early success for the Lady Eagles.
“His values encompass what Oklahoma Christian stands for,” Dunckel said. “He also brings a variety of experience to the program, and no matter what position he is put in, he finds a way to be successful.”
Oklahoma Christian hired Hays in June 2018. Since arriving on campus, he has worked with the squad through summer recruiting and a full fall offseason. Coming from leading successful programs at Texas Tech University and Colorado Christian University, Hays brings experience in the win columns.
Senior Kaylie Upton said Hays’ experience brings a new confidence and relaxed feeling to the team, which proves vital in high pressure, close-game scenarios.
“We have put in the work in the offseason, so whatever happens in a game is second nature,” Upton said. “Coach Hays does a good job of taking the pressure off us. As long as we are playing hard and competing, he’s happy. We have a lot of fun playing, and we enjoy each other’s company. It’s a lot of fun to take the field with that mindset.”
After going 4-0 in the TAJ Hospitality College Softball Kickoff in Lubbock, TX, Feb. 1-2, Dunckel and Upton received national awards for their performances.
Dunckel, who transferred from Colorado Christian with Hays, was named the NCAA Division II national player of the week by FastpitchNews.com Feb. 6.
Over the course of four wins, of which Oklahoma Christian won every game by five or more runs, Dunckel hit 9-for-13 (.692), recording a double, three RBIs, 11 runs and four stolen bases. In Oklahoma Christian’s 15-1 win over the University of Texas – Permian Basin (UTPB), she went 4-for-5 at the plate and scored four runs.
Dunckel became the first Oklahoma Christian softball player to receive this award and said she felt extremely blessed and excited to be awarded the honor this early in the season.
“I went into the first tournament with the intention to be a strong player, and I set the tone for myself,” Dunckel said. “God has blessed me with an amazing talent, and I know that in every game I will not be as successful, but I will continue to work hard.”
Also on Feb. 6, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) honored Upton as the NCAA Division II softball player of the week.
During the four wins in Lubbock, Upton hit four home runs and recorded 11 RBIs. Upton hit just two home runs during the 2018 season, but notched four over a two-game span, hitting two in both wins over Midwestern State University and UTPB.
From the pitcher’s mound, Upton took part in a combined no-hitter against UTPB, throwing the first two innings. She also picked up the win against Western New Mexico University in the season opener.
Upton became the third player in Oklahoma Christian softball history to receive the NFCA award. She said she felt very honored and contribute to her team’s overall success, because it proved all her offseason hard work paid off.
“I realize what my role is, so I worked every day on being a better pitcher, first baseman and hitter,” Upton said. “I’ve also realized as a senior leader, I need to be better for the underclassmen. It’s been good for me to not even focus so much on softball in that sense but to just be a good friend and mentor to them.”
The Lady Eagles closed their non-conference play Feb. 17 with their 12th win of the season against the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. They open Heartland Conference action Thursday with a double header against St. Mary’s University at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. in San Antonio, TX.
Upton said these first conference games will set the tone for the rest of the season as the team pushes toward their ultimate goal.
“Our main goal this year is to go far in postseason,” Upton said. “We want to host and win the conference tournament for a chance to compete in a regional.”