When Chyenne Factor plunged into the YMCA pool at 5 in the morning, she was not sure how long she would be in the water.
None of the Cowgirl softball players were.
There are plenty of new players for OSU heading into fall ball. Some key members of the 2022 Women’s College World Series team graduated, including Sydney Pennington and Chelsea Alexander. The transfer portal whirlwind was active as ever, with players leaving and others filling the void.
“We've got 14 new faces, which is a lot,” coach Kenny Gajewski said. “Some really good athletes, really good people, you know what I mean. It was disappointing to lose a couple of kids that played a lot last year. I never thought we couldn't replace their talent. We've done that. I mean, we've replaced people with better athletes, better softball players. It's just hard when you lose people that you’ve put a lot of time into.”
The Cowgirls beat the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma 19-7 on Wednesday in their fall ball season opener. Perhaps the win was because of a unique, intentionally frustrating program that Gajewski employed to get his team to gel.
It was a two-day extravaganza, like something out of a reality TV competition. It started on the first or second day of classes this semester. Every softball player met on the field in Cowgirl Stadium, as the sun met the horizon to begin the day.
The team completed theoretically simple challenges, such as counting together.
“Everyone had to be on the same page,” Factor said. “So it was like, if we did it right, it was supposed to take just 16 minutes to do everything.”
About four hours later, long after hopes of a 16-minute finish vanished, the Cowgirls completed their tasks.
“I think it kind of got us together like really fast,” Factor said. “You kind of get to know how people are going to be in pressured situations…so it was good. It was tough, but it was good.”
The Cowgirls met at the YMCA pool the next morning. At 5, they again started the tedious team building work. On day two, there was a twist. After completing a challenge, players dove into the pool, swam across, and did another challenge.
Redshirt senior pitcher Kelly Maxwell says, in hindsight, the exercises were worth the toll.
“I think it’s been very good for us,” Maxwell said. “It was something different that I’d never done before. It was hard. Very mental and tough. Being able to get through that and push with new faces and new kids, it gives a new type of feeling for this team that we haven’t figured out completely yet. But it’s something special.”
Gajewski said OSU had some recruiting battles with Oklahoma in the offseason. He has turned OSU into one of the top transfer destinations in the country, along with OU. Getting talented players, though, and then getting them to integrate with the returners to play well, are two different matters.
“There's a lot that goes into all this and to create the best team,” Gajewski said. “And so we're in the process of doing that. And these kids have been all in. Crazy great fall up to this point and this team is really close.”