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The Magic School Bus: How the OSU softball team bonds

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(Back row from right to left) Logan Simunek, Carrie Eberle, Chyenne Factor, Raquel Dominguez, (bottom row) Mady Lohman and Madison Neighbors before the No.14 Oklahoma State vs. Missouri State softball game on March 8, 2020 at Cowgirl Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma

Jeff Bargfeldt stood and addressed the team for one of the first times as one of OSU’s assistant softball coaches.

“What you tend to remember most is the end of each year,” Bargfeldt told the Cowgirls. “Especially when you’ve had a World Series year. You remember the very end. What you forget about is the journey it took to get there.”

So early in the Oklahoma State softball season, it was a great message — especially for returning Cowgirls.

“I thought it was the most perfect words at that point for last year’s team because it really kind of sunk in for all of us,” coach Kenny Gajewski said. “You forget the up and down, you just think you’re going to pick back up and take off again.”

The message came at a delicate part of the season. Players were returning from a long offseason, and there was a fair share of the up and down.

“The mistake I made was I thought in my brain, we would just pick right up from last year’s team,” Gajewski said. “We’re back, we’re together, the band is back, here we go again. And it was like, ‘Oh my gosh we’re a mess.’”

Gajewski saw looks in the eyes of his players he had never seen before. He realized this team was not the 2019-20 team that won 12 games in a row to close the season.

The coach said he saw an occasional squabble break out among his players, something he’s learned to understand is inevitable at the outset of play.

“We were having some typical early season cattiness,” Gajewski said. “It’s normal on any team, it doesn’t matter if you’re coaching girls or guys. Everybody is trying to kind of get their bluff in. Everybody is trying to figure out who’s who and what everyone is all about.”

Bargfeldt’s message reminded the Cowgirls that memories of pettiness pale in comparison to the highs of a World Series run. And he emphasized the Cowgirls had to overcome their minor differences to have a chance at accomplishing the unforgettable.

While the situation may sound alarming to some, Gajewski had a simple, eight-wheeled remedy in mind.

“We’re going to get on that bus and it will really change,” Gajewski said. “It always does. We’re going to have a blast and see where it goes.”

The early season road trips can provide more benefit than playing experience. As the highway miles melt away, bus trips can bring a team together.

“I think just being on the bus for that long, everyone just kind of gets tired of either homework or sleeping, so we kind of have to come together,” sophomore pitcher Kelly Maxwell said. “People talk and we find out things about people that we don’t know. “

“I wish I had a magic potion that I could sell and sprinkle on them and go, ‘Hey, it’s time to be a good close knit, solid team,’” Gajewski said.

While there is no equivalent to “Michael’s Magic Stuff” to put into the water bottles for a Looney Toons-esque transformation, a good old-fashioned road trip is sometimes all it takes.

“Playing, getting on that bus, being in a hotel, hanging out — I think that’s what will really help this team,” Gajewski said.

One bus ride tradition sparks both conversation and laughter for the Cowgirls.

“Whenever you are new to the program, on the way to the first game, everyone has to dance,” Maxwell said with a smile. “The new people have to dance. They play inappropriate music, probably, and you have to go up and down the aisle once and you have to dance in front of everybody.”

Freshman outfielder Scotland David was thrown out as one of the best dancers on the team, yet whether players embrace their inner boogie or are very nervous — like Maxwell was when she danced on a trip to Houston — the Cowgirls said it doesn’t matter.

The result is the same.

“That kind of just gets everyone laughing and gives the new kids a chance to open up and be themselves,” Maxwell said.

From his spot at the front of the bus with the other coaches, Gajewski observed the bus working its magic. He heard laughing and talking as the bus rolled down the road.

“I was very, very, pleased with where the team is moving towards,” Gajewski said. “This is when you see some relationships change… The chatter on the bus is good.”

It is a gradual change and an inexact science. Still, the Cowgirls seem to have grown together on the bus.

“None of our teams have gotten on that first bus trip and been in a perfect place,” Gajewski said. “It evolves. It’s magical. It’s why you coach. It’s why every team is a new team, why every year is a new year.”

Even with the bus-induced bonding taking place, team chemistry remains a work in progress.

“We’re not void of problems,” Gajewski said. “We still have them and have to work through them. I can tell you the one thing we’re going to do is hit them head on and get them out. That’s what we’re always going to do. We’re coming together.”

Fortunately for the Cowgirls, more bus trips remain.

“You want a team that genuinely enjoys being around each other,” Gajewski said. “The bus forces that. There’s no other way to force that.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com