OKLAHOMA CITY — University of Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo will lead one of the most prolific home run-hitting teams in NCAA history into the Women's College World Series.
The nation's individual leader this season with 30 homers, Alo was named 2021's top college player by USA Softball. She paces a team that has 146 total homers — second all-time to Hawaii's 158 in 2010 — and leads the nation this year with 2.81 homers per game. Second-place Arizona State averaged 1.94.
"I think this team is very special," Alo said, "and I think that if we just continue to play our game and do what we do and not try to do too much, we're going to be in a really good spot."
Alo's top-seeded Sooners (50-2) faces unseeded James Madison University (39-2) in the opening game Thursday in Oklahoma City. In other matchups, No. 5 seed Oklahoma State (47-10) will play unseeded Georgia (34-21), No. 3 Alabama (50-7) will face No. 11 Arizona (41-13) and No. 2 UCLA (46-5) — the reigning WCWS champion as the 2019 tournament winner — will play No. 10 Florida State (44-10-1). The two teams that emerge from double-elimination play will face off in a best-of-three championship series that starts Monday.
Alo shares the program's single-season home run record with Lauren Chamberlain, yet she is just one of the team's many threats.
Tiare Jennings, who has 25 homers and leads the nation with 84 RBIs, has been named the Division I freshman of the year by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and Schutt Sports — an award Alo won in 2018. Both were named first-team NFCA All-Americans on Wednesday. Kinzie Hansen, a catcher and a second-team All-American, has 21 homers. Jayda Coleman, a freshman and a first-team selection, has eight homers and 19 stolen bases. Shortstop Grace Lyons, a second-teamer, has 14 homers.
Oklahoma won national titles in 2000, '13,'16 and '17 and was the runner-up in '12 and '19. The Sooners will play in front of what will amount to a home crowd of roughly 13,000 at a newly expanded ASA Hall of Fame Stadium just 25 miles from campus.
Their opening opponent, JMU, is a first-time qualifier, but the Dukes have reason to be confident: They won all their games on the road in regionals and super regionals to advance. Odicci Alexander has a 16-1 record and a 1.14 ERA with 186 strikeouts in 117 innings.
"I think what's very important for us is that we stay grounded, we stay within ourselves, we don't let anything affect us and we keep playing JMU softball," said Dukes coach Loren LaPorte, whose program has won five straight Colonial Athletic Association regular-season titles and four of the past five CAA tourney championships.
Oklahoma State is playing close to home, too, and the Cowgirls are responsible for one of Oklahoma's losses.
First baseman Alysen Febrey (.409, 18 homers, 59 RBIs) and pitcher Carrie Eberle (25-3, 1.41 ERA) are first-team All-Americans. Utility player Hayley Busby (.389, 19 homers, 49 RBIs) made the second team.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could face off Friday if both win their openers, but the Cowgirls shouldn't get ahead of themselves, because Georgia is the other team that beat Oklahoma. The Sooners won their first 33 games this season before losing in Athens.
Georgia is at the WCWS despite getting shut out in its only matchup in the Southeastern Conference tournament last month, when host Alabama won the title as the No. 3 seed with a title-game shutout of top-seeded Florida — the program Georgia eliminated from the NCAA bracket during a super regional last weekend in Gainesville.
This week, Alabama pitcher Montana Fouts returns to the site of one of the most impressive WCWS performances in recent memory. As a freshman in 2019, she pitched shutouts on back-to-back days against Arizona and Oklahoma, striking out 14 batters and allowing just seven hits. This season, she is a first-team All-American with a 25-3 record, a 1.49 ERA and 314 strikeouts in 196 2/3 innings.