Jocelyn Alo [ @78jocelyn_alo ] looking to help power No. 1 Oklahoma back to the WCWS
COURTESY JOSHUA GATELEY / OU ATHLETICS
Jocelyn Alo understood the challenge ahead.
Last season, the Hauula native put herself on the national radar in her first year at Oklahoma, leading the nation with 30 home runs while hitting .420 with a team-high 72 RBIs. Only two freshmen in NCAA Division I history had homered that many times in a single season before — Hawaii’s Kelly Majam in 2010 and Oklahoma’s Lauren Chamberlain (who went on to set the NCAA career record) in 2012. She also set the NCAA freshman record for home runs per game with 0.48 over Oklahoma’s 62-game schedule last year.
Alo was awarded with National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America honors and was named freshman of the year by both the NFCA and the Big 12 Conference. She entered her sophomore season as perhaps the most feared hitter in college softball, regardless of class. Fans across the country wondered what she would do as an encore, especially after setting the bar so high for herself.
Taking a break
Heading into the Sooners’ series at Kansas from April 12 to 14, Alo was hitting .361 with seven home runs. By no means was it a sophomore slump, but Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso noticed Alo was pressing too hard to replicate what she had done the year before.
The Sooners headed to Lawrence for their series. Gasso told Alo to stay back in Norman.
“She’s been a little bit unhappy or just frustrated with herself,” Gasso told The Oklahoman at the time. “I’ve been in places where athletes have gone to that area where they just need a break. She didn’t do anything wrong. There’s no punishment, nothing like that. It’s more me caring about her as a person and giving her a breath. It was the right time to do it, and I do believe it’s recharged her.”
Originally opposed to the idea, Alo eventually came to embrace the brief break and arose from it invigorated.
“I wasn’t too happy about it at first. But I took the initiative and told myself I really need to take a step back and just take a break from softball,” she said in a phone conversation Tuesday. “That whole week, I didn’t hit, I didn’t watch softball, I didn’t throw a ball, I didn’t do anything softball related. I strictly just went to school, came home and got caught up with my schoolwork and stuff like that. It definitely helped me to reset and recharge.”
PHOTO COURTESY TY RUSSELL / OU ATHLETICS
Jocelyn Alo was the Star-Advertiser player of the year at Campbell before earning NFCA All-America and freshman of the year honors at Oklahoma last season.
In the 15 games Alo’s played since then, she raised her batting average to .388. In 51 games played this season, she has 14 home runs with 47 RBIs and has struck out just 17 times in her 152 at-bats.
Alo’s prep accolades include an HHSAA wrestling title at 184 pounds as a Kahuku sophomore in 2015. After transferring to Campbell the next year, she took home consecutive state softball titles and Star-Advertiser player of the year honors to end her high school career.
During her senior year state tournament, Alo was walked in 13 of her 17 plate appearances. Alo knew she’d have more opportunities to swing once she went to college. However, much like her latter years at Campbell, teams started to key into Alo’s Ruthian exploits at the plate the second year around.
“High school’s very different, they would just walk me and walk me and walk me,” she said. “Pitchers this year, they have film on you and know what you do and what your tendencies are. Freshman year, you come in and they don’t know who you are, they don’t know what you can do.
“For me it was just about adjusting to that, adjusting to how pitchers were pitching to me. It’s definitely different from being walked all the time.”
Aiming for OKC
Last Friday, Oklahoma (52-3) powered its way to a five-inning, 12-2 mercy rule victory over Maryland-Baltimore County to start NCAA regional play in Norman. The Sooners downed Wisconsin 4-0 the next day to put themselves within one win of the super regionals. The Badgers returned the favor on Sunday with a 2-1 win to force a winner-take-all third matchup between the teams.
For the Sooners, the loss put an end to a 41-game winning streak, an NCAA Division I single-season record, a run that included the team’s second straight 18-0 mark in Big 12 play. It also snapped a string of 49 consecutive victories at home dating back to last season.
On top of all that, the Sooners were facing elimination the next game, which was set to begin right after the first one ended. All the history made leading up to Sunday was in jeopardy of being made a moot point in just a matter of hours.
“We regrouped as a team and it was like ‘OK, we need to buckle down right now and we’re not gonna let this loss define us,’ ” Alo said of the 45 minutes between the games.
Oklahoma prevailed 2-0, advancing to the super regionals, where it will host Northwestern in a best-of-three series starting Friday. Starting in right field and hitting in the cleanup spot for all four games, Alo went 3-for-12 with two RBIs and a double in last weekend’s regional. Last year’s Sooners fell short at the Women’s College World Series, which is held annually in Oklahoma City, approximately a half-hour drive from OU’s campus.
Alo may not have the same numbers as last season, but as the top national seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, the Sooners are primed to take their third national championship in four years. For Alo, it would be her first.
But Alo has set her sights set even higher on the diamond, hoping to earn an invite later this year to try out for the USA national team for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. It’s a revival 12 years in the making after baseball and softball were excluded by the IOC following the 2008 games.
She may accomplish all of the above in college and beyond. If she does, she’ll always remember the low point that made it possible.
“I think that week off definitely elevated my game, because after that, I felt like I took off and was just being myself again,” she said. “I wasn’t trying to live up to other people’s expectations, I was just being me and it felt good. As much as I hated that week off, it was the best thing that happened to me this year.”