New standard: Gajewski, Cowgirls enter season with high expectations

OSU vs. WASHINGTON 2019 WCWS 030.JPG

The OSU team cheers with its fans one final time for the season during the Oklahoma State vs. Washington softball game on June 1, 2019, in Oklahoma City. The No. 3 Huskies defeated the No. 13 Cowgirls 1-0, eliminating OSU from the 2019 Women's College World Series. (DEVIN LAWRENCE WILBER/O'Colly)

Coach Kenny Gajewski has instilled a winning mentality in his program.

In the four seasons prior to Gajewski’s hiring, the Oklahoma State softball program had begun to fall off, with three losing seasons and a combined record of 102-111.

However, in the four seasons since Gajewski took over, the Cowgirls have improved their record every year, culminating in their first Women’s College World Series trip in eight years in 2019 with a record of 45-17. This year, OSU has its highest preseason ranking under Gajewski at No. 13.

Gajewski said it’s business as usual for his team and that he expects the program to be contending for a world series every year.

“I just keep reminding them that last year is completely done with,” Gajewski said. “Last year got us back on track of where I expect to be here… I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t attract top talent, and with our staff and resources, we should be in that mix each year.”

Last season, Gajewski brought in a host of transfers including Samantha Show, who led the Cowgirls to OKC. This year is no different as Carrie Eberle, Hayley Busby and Alysen Febrey have transferred in to play for Gajewski.

Febrey will likely play a large role for OSU, as Gajewski said the Georgia transfer has emerged as one of the team’s leaders through fall ball. Febrey hit .314 last season and could start the season as the leadoff hitter, in addition to replacing Show at first base.

“Febrey is the one that sticks out the very most on the diamond,” Gajewski said. “She’s been in the world series with Georgia. She’s played in the SEC, so she’s truly tested… This schedule won’t faze her, and she doesn’t smile a whole lot. She’s very business-like when she goes to the plate.”

In addition to the players transferring in, Gajewski has also brought over former Tulsa coach John Bargfeldt, who spent the past 14 seasons with TU. He has worked mainly with the pitchers during the off-season and Gajewski said Bargfeldt has been nothing short of spectacular so far.

“His softball mind is crazy. It’s unreal,” Gajewski said, “As a young, inexperienced head coach in only my fifth year, he brings me another sense of calmness, maturity and he brings experience."

In order to earn a trip back to Oklahoma City, the Cowgirls will have to maneuver their way through a brutal schedule. Of their 56 scheduled games, 19 are against ranked opponents, including the US national team.

Gajewski said he really doesn’t like the schedule, but will appreciate it later in the season.

“It’s a lot to handle with some new kids, but heck, you might as well go and see what you can do,” Gajewski said, “You find out right away who’s got that look in their eye and who doesn’t, I’d rather find that out now than in OKC.”

 The Cowgirls were picked to finish third in the conference after finishing in second last season. If Gajewski and OSU want to win the Big 12 for the first time in his tenure, they will have to get over the hump that is Oklahoma. As a coach, Gajewski is 0-14 against his alma mater, but he said he has to make sure his team isn’t too worried about OU.

“I have a unique perspective because of my background on them (OU) and what they do,” Gajewski said, “I don’t put more stock into OU and I know that’s hard for our fans because they do and it’s important, but I just put stock in us being an elite program.”

Along with a strong pitching staff, the Cowgirls are focusing on providing better at bats throughout their lineup.  Gajewski said he often doesn’t care about strikeouts, but when the coaching staff went back and looked at some of the top teams, he said they’ve started working on eliminating non-competitive at bats.

While the lineup is somewhat of a work in progress, Gajewski said he has several different lineups he can go with, depending on who is playing well in other areas.

“We can put a lineup in there with a lot of speed, we can put a lineup in there with a lot of power,” Gajewski said, “The lineup is what it is now, but we don’t play for ten days… There’s a lot to be had, there’s a lot of spots out there open.”

The expectations have certainly been raised, but Gajewski said he thinks this is the most talented team he’s had at OSU, and that they could make another WCWS run in June.

“We’ve got a lot of kids back and we’ve got a lot of newcomers… I’ve really seen a change in the way they’ve come together,” Gajewski said, “This team can be as good as they want to be. To be honest, it’s kind of in their shoes now.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com