Story by Zachary Larsen
No. 1 ranked Oklahoma found themselves on the brink of elimination after losing game one of the Women’s College World Series against Florida State.
However, it was the Sooners perseverance and determination that allowed them to win the next two games en route to a National Championship.
“It was really surreal,” senior pitcher Giselle Juarez said. “It still hasn’t hit me.”
Juarez was named the WCWS Most Outstanding Player after her performance going 5-0 with a 0.90 ERA and 37 strikeouts.
— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) June 10, 2021
“It means a lot,” Juarez said on receiving the honor. “I was kind of shocked. It’s because of my teammates that I earned that award. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am. I think I screamed it when I got the award that it was for them, it was because of them.”
The Sooners never lost back-to-back games during the season as they faced adversity for the first time all year during the postseason.
“It was a total team effort,” junior infielder Grace Lyons said on the team’s ability to find a way to win. “I think that everyone will agree that this was one of the most team-orientated teams that we’ve had in the program of OU softball.”
Lyons and Juarez were key figures in the team’s success, having been ranked No. 1 in the country all year.
The two also went to high school in Arizona. Lyons was a former star at Sandra Day O’Connor High School in Phoenix, while Juarez attended Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale.
At Sandra Day O’Connor, Lyons played under head coach Melissa Hobson, someone she admires greatly as she continues to make an impact on her life even while she was on college softball’s biggest stage this season.
“She was definitely that woman figure that I still look up to and that’s able to have a really good influence on my softball life, my personal life, my faith life, all of that,” Lyons said. “Whenever I go back for breaks, I’m able to meet up with her at school and maybe do some batting practice with her. So that relationship still super strong.”
— O’Connor Softball (@sdosoftball) June 11, 2021
Back in 2015, Lyons and her team captured the school’s first 6A state title. Juarez faced Lyons in that same championship game, losing to her future teammate. Although the championship loss stung, Juarez and Lyons are now closer than ever.
“It still hurts a little bit,” Juarez said on the state championship loss. “But now that we have a national championship, it’s not as bad. I just remember seeing her at O’Connor and being like, ‘dang, she’s good.’ And then in 2018, we kind of talked to each other, we both knew about each other, but just to know her as a person is so awesome.”
The teammates paths may have never crossed if it weren’t for Juarez’s decision to transfer from Arizona State to Oklahoma in 2018. She mentioned having Lyons there made the transition more comfortable after living in Arizona for most of her life.
“It was super hard. I didn’t think I was going to do it,” Juarez said on transferring to Oklahoma. “But when I came to Oklahoma, I think one, having Grace Lyons on the team kind of helped because she was one that was really far and from the same state at least. And then, they just made it feel like home.”
This season marked the final year as teammates for the duo at Oklahoma. Juarez took her fifth-year option after last year’s cancellation and said that she will be moving back to Arizona to play for Athletes Unlimited, which is one of the newest professional softball leagues that began play last summer.
Lyons will continue to play the next two seasons with the Sooners, taking her extra year of eligibility as well.
The program is also expected to get one of Arizona’s top softball prospects in Jocelyn Erickson, who currently plays at Sandra Day O’Connor. Juarez hopes more players like Erickson decide to move out of state to play softball after her experience in Norman.
“Honestly, to play out of state and get that exposure…there are a lot of people coming from Arizona,” Juarez said, “but be okay with being uncomfortable. It was uncomfortable at first (transferring to OU), but it ended up being the best decision of my life.”