The Oklahoma State softball team should be coming off its second game against Wichita State, but not since the sports world stopped following its first contest against the Shockers.
The Cowgirls beat WSU 5-0 on that fateful March 11 day, but unlike every day following that final game, coach Kenny Gajewski and his players finally have something to look forward to.
The NCAA announced Monday players in spring sports would get an extra year of eligibility and for a team that was on a 12-game winning streak and knocking on the top 10, it is good news.
“I am very pleased. It is not the outcome I thought we were going to get,” Gajewski said. “I thought they were going to deny it after the week leading up to the news that was being leaked out wasn’t very good. I do think they did the right thing. I think there is going to be a burden on all of our schools to fund this. I think the one thing we have to remember is our student athletes are the true north here. They are the most important thing and what we are all about. It is very important that they have this opportunity if they want it.”
With the decision comes lots of questions, though, especially to how students will be able to come back if they have jobs lined up after their expected graduation date.
“I think you will see 70 to 80 percent will take advantage, especially in our sport. I think that a lot of kids in softball do graduate in four years,” Gajewski said. “They don’t use the fifth year as much as other sports might. I don’t have the stats on that, I am thinking about what my colleagues think. A lot of these kids have internships or grad school that is going to start or a job. Now, that may change with the way our economy is tanking and how it has come to a halt here.”
For the Cowgirls personally, there are five seniors who could come back: Shalee Brantley, Carrie Eberle, Alysen Febrey, Logan Simunek and Sydney Springfield.
Catcher Mackenzie Thomas wasn’t going to be able to play this year because of requirements for speech therapy grad school. Gajewski said he hasn’t talked much to Thomas, but he feels like it might be a two-year program where Thomas would be doing clinicals next season so she still wouldn’t be able to play.
For Febrey and Eberle, both have already said they are coming back. The two transfers, who came in this season after graduating from Georgia and Virginia Tech, respectively, were playing exceptionally well before the season ended.
Febrey was on track to break the OSU single season home run record – set in 2019 by Samantha Show – as she had hit 11 homers in just 24 games so far. The record is 20.
Eberle had a sub-1.00 ERA, showing out as the Cowgirls’ ace.
Gajewski said he was going to have a weekly Zoom meeting with the team Thursday night, but he knows that those two players for sure are coming back.
With them already being in grad school, it wouldn’t change much for Febrey and Eberle. However, Eberle will have to work around forensic biology program, Gajewski said.
“Carrie is still telling me that she is coming back and will adjust her grad school to be able to play,” Gajewski said. “I think that is what you are seeing is they have a love for this game and a love for this program and school. I am excited about what opportunities they will have. As of right now, they are all saying they are coming back.”
With the possibility of all five seniors coming back, as well as five incoming players, Gajewski said there will be competition throughout the roster.
“That will be 27 kids and create a lot of competition on this team that was already talent rich. It is going to be interesting to see, but I think you will see our softball game is really going to improve,” Gajewski said. “Anytime you give kids an extra year. Look at Kelly Maxwell and what an extra year did for her. I can’t imagine what another year is going to do for Carrie or Alysen, kids that are already playing at a high level. Another year to be more mature and savvy. It is scary how good they are going to be. It will make our game really good and interesting to see how that works out.”
There will be lots of decisions to be made for the Cowgirl coaching staff as Gajewski said he doesn’t want to redshirt anyone. He is happy that those decisions can still be made after the fall season so there is time to think if he will need to redshirt players.
“I think you have to look at this and say what is the best decision for this team?” Gajewski said. “I know this team will be very, very good. Some of these kids will want to play less and be a contributor than not play. That is very hard, to not play. What Kelly Maxwell had to do last year was very hard, not being able to contribute when we made that run to OKC. Everything is on the table now because we really don’t know what the parameters are.”
While the season is over, Gajewski and his staff are still recruiting and keeping up with the students. Because the season is over doesn’t mean the players can stop training, Gajewski said, as he said they need to stick to a routine so they don’t get too rusty.
The staff is also almost done with next year’s schedule, he said, though Big 12 Conference games are still in the air as the coaches have been asked whether they want to bump the 2020 schedule to next year or just use the 2021 slate.
“The hard part is we already have a schedule and most of our games are already under contract,” Gajewski said. “I am not sure in the contract, it mentions anything about a pandemic. I know they will change as we go forward. We are already into some contracts as far as midweek games.
“… I personally would like to go to the next schedule, the next year has already scheduled conference games and we set up our nonconference games around that. We may go to Lawrence and play Wichita State on the way there. That makes budgetary sense, travel sense and stuff like that we have already worked at. Whatever our coaches want to do, I am already in favor of.”
With the NCAA announcement and the economy in flux, Gajewski did say programs will have to be more budget conscious than they already are, especially in a sport like softball. He believes that the sport will survive through everything, but smart decisions have to be made.
“There will be an economic hit like there is on all of us personally, and it will be on our donors and fans. Everyone will feel this and we need to make this as easy and good as we can for all of our teams,” Gajewski said. “I think about mid-major teams like Missouri State, Tulsa and Wichita State. We need to do our part to help them. This is about everyone coming together to make this thing as good as we can. OSU is going to need to go to North Texas and Missouri State to help them. This is not about Power 5 against mid-majors, this is about Division 1 softball and how we take care of our friends.”