One of the most dominant teams in collegiate sports history, Oklahoma University’s softball team is nearly three weeks removed from beating Florida State in the Women’s College World Series to be the first repeat champions since UCLA in 1990, finishing a season in which it won the final 53 games of the season to finish 61-1 in front of television audiences that set college softball records.
For all of those things, the setting also helped set the drama and showcased the millions that have been put into the home of USA Softball.
“I think the best way that it’s been described to me is from the OU players that were on our national team,” USA Softball Executive Director Craig Cress said. “They shared with me that they felt like that the first game that they played in the stadium, in the World Series in 2021, it felt like the same atmosphere at the OU-Texas football game. When they were telling me that, I was kind of taken back a little bit. That tells me the atmosphere is quite the experience.”
Along with the new powerhouses of the sport in Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Florida State returning to OKC, there were some programs in this year’s field for the first time in a long time. Utah made its first appearance since 1994 while Stanford reached the Final Four in its first showing since 2004; so did Tennessee in its first appearance since 2015.
“The event just keeps getting better and better,” Cress said. “And that’s a testament to first and foremost to the student-athletes. They keep getting better and better and putting on a quality show. … it’s always great to have new teams and new schools come in just to witness the atmosphere.”
This year’s event also showcased the latest improvements as part of an overall $27.5 million facelift with an added upper deck that increased capacity by 4,000 seats, a three-story press box as well as upgraded ticket windows and complex entrances. This year had a new video board plus ribbon boards between the two concourses.
“I can’t say enough about the city of Oklahoma City,” Cress said, adding that a walking path was also added for offsite parking to the complex. “The last couple (renovations have) been pretty much a lot of fan experience,” joking “I’ll be interested to see what the surveys say this year because not being able to see a scoreboard has been number one on the hit parade from fans.”
The recent WCWS was the latest in a series of big events at the complex as USA Softball celebrates its 90th anniversary. The national governing body has launched a 90th anniversary logo to highlight the foundation that was laid in 1933 with the use of the original ASA logo.
Having been part of Oklahoma City’s landscape since relocating its offices in 1966 and eventually opening its headquarters in 1973, a potential next step is a naming rights deal for the complex which hosts pre-Olympic tour stops, the International Cup of Softball, Border Battle, various USA Softball National Championships and the Women’s College World Series.
“Our partner has gone out and they’ve done a pretty good job of getting a short list to us from that standpoint, and we had the opportunity to host some of those folks here at the event this past year,” Cress said. “I think that (the venue) showed very well to those groups that came out. I’m just excited that we have people who are interested,” adding that being a complex that promotes high-profile women’s sports is unique and “I think somebody’s going to want to put their name to that type of initiative.”