OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma and Texas facing off as the Women's College World Series finalists this week put softball's national spotlight on their border rivalry and the conference they call home.
Unfortunately for the Big 12, the Sooners and the Longhorns will soon be taking their talents to the Southeastern Conference.
Both schools are set to join the SEC by July 2025, when the powerhouse conference will grow to 16 members and likely become even more formidable.
Oklahoma completed a 59-3 season Thursday night, when the top-seeded Sooners beat unseeded Texas 10-5 to sweep the best-of-three title series at the WCWS. The Longhorns (47-22-1), who lost 16-1 in the series opener Wednesday, were in the NCAA finals for the first time.
It was the sixth national championship for Oklahoma — and the program's fifth in the past nine NCAA tournaments under coach Patty Gasso — but the current SEC has battled the Sooners every step of the way. Florida won national titles in 2014 and 2015 and was runner-up in 2011 and 2017. Alabama won the championship in 2012 and was runner-up in 2014, while Tennessee was runner-up in 2013 and Auburn was runner-up in 2016.
Florida was the only current SEC team to make it to Oklahoma City for the eight-team WCWS this year, but all 12 teams in the conference made the NCAA tourney's 64-team field and five of them were regional hosts.
"We're obviously in a very prideful league," Florida coach Tim Walton said. "It's a league of great coaches, great facilities, great athletic directors, great programs, great tradition-rich programs."
There will be two more top-notch programs with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas, which is emerging as a contender under coach Mike White. White believes this season's run, although the best yet, is just the beginning.
He said seniors such as Hailey Dolcini, Mary Iakopo and Janae Jefferson have left the program at a good launching point.
"That's what all those seniors can say they did — they've left the jersey in a better place," he said. "We've set all sorts of new records and standards for our program. We're not the standard of Oklahoma. I get that. But this program is rising. That's what we want."
Texas hadn't been to the WCWS since 2013, but now the Longhorns appear ready for the SEC.
"It was a really hard job building this thing from where we were," said White, who took over in 2019. "We were in a pretty tough place."
Oklahoma has a bright future as well and should be in good position to make the move. NFCA first-team All-Americans Jayda Coleman and Tiare Jennings are sophomores, while Jordy Bahl was the national freshman of the year and completed a 22-1 season in the circle as the winning pitcher Thursday.
"One thing about Sooner softball, and I've seen it year in and year out, is they just continue to get better," said Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo, a fifth-year senior whose final two college seasons included back-to-back championships and player of the year honors. "I don't know what holds next year, but I know that they could be (in the running) for the best team, too, and for years to come."
The two programs will also bring a longstanding border rivalry to the SEC that can compete with any existing in the league. The Sooners-Longhorns softball series has been one-sided in recent years, but Oklahoma won 38 straight games to start this season before losing at Texas, and postseason success brought them together in Oklahoma City.
Should it be considered a true rivalry again?
"We hadn't beat them in years," Dolcini said, "and finally getting that one win — OK, you can kind of start to call it that again and keep competing with them."