STILLWATER – Oklahoma State softball coach Kenny Gajewski and select players met with members of the Oklahoma media Monday afternoon to discuss the upcoming 2019 season and a host of other topics. A look at some of what they had to say:

Head Coach Kenny Gajewski

Opening Statement:

“I’m really looking forward to Friday. This team has continued to raise the bar here and we continue to increase the talent here. I feel like I’m a better head coach in my fourth year than I was in my first year. I’ve learned a whole lot here as we’ve gone along. I think with the transfers and freshmen that we’ve added to this class of kids, it’s an exciting time here and we’re looking forward to getting started this weekend against four really quality opponents and teams that are going to challenge us right from the start. I think if you asked any of our kids, they’re tired of intersquading against the same people and practicing, they’re ready to play and show what they’ve got. It should be an interesting ride, a fun journey and this team has worked tremendously hard. They’re as close as any group I’ve been around, maybe ever. I think they only teams that I could go back and say have been closer have been teams that won championships, and those teams just always share a special bond. This group is off to a good start in that regard, but obviously we haven’t put a lineup up yet. They have an idea of who the starters are. We intersquad almost each day, so they see that, but you know when it goes up for the first time it’s for real. We’ll see how we handle that and how we handle success, failure and all that stuff that comes along with playing games that count.”

On what makes this year’s team a championship-caliber group:

“I think depth. We’ll start with the pitching. This is by far the best pitching staff that we’ve had. We’ve got five kids that are going to get time here. Obviously, the first one will get more than the second one and that kind of stuff, but all these kids are going to pitch at this point. We’ve got some different looks. We’ve got size, strength, speed and feel in that staff.”

On replacing Vanessa Shippy:

“You don’t, to be honest. I think we can replace her numbers. Her numbers are obviously great, but we have those types of kids that can put that type of stuff up. What you miss is the competitive spirit, the everyday… She really embraced her last year. She embraced every day here, but I saw a kid that really embraced every day knowing it was her last days here. Just embraced practice. Embraced walking in. Embraced parking her car in the parking lot up here and walking in and feeling like ‘This is what I’ve always wanted.’ I think (Samantha) Show brings that. She has really embrace that same thing. I’m hoping that’s something that we can try to replace some of that with. Show’s energy is infectious. Shippy is one of those kids that you’re never going to replace her. You just hope that she rubbed off on enough kids, which is what I challenged her with last year. I think I sat right here and said the same thing. She had to put her worth in what her legacy was going to be here, and I think she did that well and that will carry on. We have a lot of kids who miss her, but are trying to carry on that torch.”

On managing the pitching staff:

“I think I’ve laid in bed at night and imagined four kids throwing in one game. Not because we’re not throwing well, but because we have options. We have maybe some matchup things against certain teams, and the thing that we have, that we really haven’t had, is a pitcher who hits. That’s Show. We have some crazy rules in our game about re-entry, the DP, the flex and all those things. This is the first year I’ve had to know what those are and really know what they are and how to use those. I’m sure I’ll mess that up once or twice. We’ll learn, that’ just takes time. I’ve spent a lot of time around some people who have had the same thing talking about how they use it, how they start their lineup and all that kind of stuff. We’re going to put out some crazy lineups when I give them to (sports information director) John (Langham) each day, but he’s going to know that Taylor Lynch is not going to pitch. That’s just where she may start and I’ll make the changes at home plate for whomever it might be. There’s some challenges there, but we really do have kids that need to pitch, need to pitch a lot and we’ve talked to our kids about this. We may take them out, even if they’re going well, because we need to get another girl some work. I think what it will do is it will really set us up for postseason play. At least up front, we’re not going to have to rely one kid to carry the weight. When you do that, a lot of those teams tend to run out of gas late. You can get to the final deal, but I don’t want to just get to the final deal. I want to win the final deal. To do that, you’ve got to get three kids, maybe four, prepared to pitch. If you look at some big-time runs from teams late, they brought in a third or a fourth kid to pitch innings late in big games to win. I think we’ve got that and I’m excited about that.”

On Taylor Lynch’s role after tearing her ACL in the fall:

“I don’t even look at her as hurt, to be honest. I think that probably happened about a week ago. When she tore her ACL in the fall, we didn’t even talk about it for 10 days. I just wanted to get the MRI back, I wanted to see how bad it was and all this kind of stuff. I’ve been through it enough now with a couple kids as a head coach. We can’t change it, so I had to figure out how I could spin this in her mind, how I could spin this to our team, because what I learned with (Rylee) Bayless last year when she went down was the impact that had on our team. I didn’t know the emotional impact. We count on (Lynch). She’s been hitting No. 2 in our lineup and this will be her fourth year there. That spot is iron-clad. I really watched our team and the way they handled that. I thought it was very, very mature. Part of that was that we had depth. Then once we got the information back, she just told me, ‘I’m going to play.’ And I said, ‘OK.’ I didn’t expect anything less, to be honest. I thought she would try to play. Now she’s running bases, stealing some bags. She’s not hurt. She can play every day. I think her knee feels better than it’s felt in a long time. I think it has been torn for a while, just not the whole way. She’s got horrible knees. They’ve been that way before she got here. She’s old in her knees and is one of those that, at some point in time, is probably going to have to have some major work done. She knows that. It tells you a lot about her and she sees what this team is, will be and can be. We’re just going to use her like we always have. I’m not going to pretend she’s hurt. She is hurt, but she’s playing with a brace and she’s fine. She tells me each day, ‘I’m fine.’ She’s moving better and she’s going to start taking some balls in our outfield just in case. I suspect, in a week or two, I’ll think she’s probably alright to play out there if I need her to. That’s the way it has gone. That’s our mentality and the way the mentality has changed here.”

On Sydney Pennington & Kiley Naomi’s partnership on the left side of the infield:

“I think it’s the best in the country. They are, with Sydney at third base – she’s a high-level shortstop – I’d put them up against anyone. We’re going to have some problems at times because we’re young there, and it’s new for Sydney. We’re challenging (Kiley) to communicate every day. She’s the quarterback on the dirt. We’re putting our communication in a freshman. That’s tough, but we’re going to learn. We recognized really quickly that her and Sydney were both really good. Last year, I sugarcoated it and didn’t handle it well as a head coach. This year, I pulled Sydney and Kiley both in – we were on the dirt – and I told them, ‘We’ve got a problem. It’s a good problem. We haven’t had this problem before. The problem is you’re both elite, and I can only play one of you at short. I don’t know who it is yet, but we’re going to need both of you to play and both of you to play well. One of you is going to have to figure out where you’re going to go. So you got any ideas of where you may want to go?’ Sydney goes, ‘I can go to third.’ I said, ‘OK, I agree.’ Kiley said, ‘I don’t know, I don’t really want to play third.’ I said ‘Alright. Then let’s figure it out.’ Kiley never moved. That tells you a little bit about her. She was willing to dig in and go. Sydney walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, I don’t want you to think I don’t want to play shortstop.’ I said, ‘I don’t think that at all.’ But I think we were starting to see that Kiley may be the best shortstop. Sydney is like right there. Really, really good. Kiley is the fastest kid on our team, and one of the strongest on our team. That’s a combo you don’t really see a lot. In baseball, it would be like a Bo Jackson. It’s that’s kind of power. It’s that kind of speed. It’s crazy fast, crazy power, arm is above average and gets to balls that we’ve never had. Sydney was a step above where we were before. We’ve really improved there. Those two kids have worked together well. Sydney has coached her. Sydney has coached her to take her shortstop job. And when you have that kind of servant leadership, that’s how you get a ‘C’ on your chest, that’s how you develop good chemistry and good culture, and that’s what she has done. With those two kids on the left side, it’s really good. We’re making plays we haven’t made. We also have pitchers who are can strike people out. Now, when you combine strikeouts with people who can make plays you’ve never made, our really good defense that we play is really elite. That’s what I’m excited to watch.”

Senior Samantha Show (P/DP)

On her excitement for the 2019 season:

“I’m pumped. With our scrimmage yesterday and being in our uniforms, it was just a cool little glimpse of what it’s going to be like. I know yesterday was nowhere near the energy level, but I’m just excited to see what we do with another team in the other dugout and facing different pitchers, different hitters and the excitement that comes with that. I’m excited to see these young kids and what they can actually do. I think we have a relatively young team, and just to see how they grow over the season and what everyone has been talking about. I didn’t see these girls throughout the whole recruitment process, so I’m excited to see them for real.”

On the freedom that the OSU coaching staff gives their players to express themselves:

“It’s great. I think that’s what young women need. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be the next Jennie Finch or whoever, but you’re not going to truly enjoy the game unless you’re actually being yourself. That’s why I haven’t been having fun over the past three years. I was trying to fit in a bubble and trying to be someone else, but when you’re actually able to be yourself and have fun, that’s when you can play your best. I think that’s what this coaching staff understands.”

On what the biggest draw of Oklahoma State was:

“Just the realness. The coaches don’t sugarcoat anything. They’re going to be 100 percent honest and tell you the brutal, honest truth and that’s how I was raised and how I grew up. Having coaches that remind me of home makes me feel at home, and I’m able to be comfortable with everything that’s going on.”

Senior Taylor Lynch (OF/DP)

On the attitude of this year’s team:

“I think the mentality just goes back to the champion’s mentality. We’ve talked about ‘The Cowgirl Way’ and how we want to be. We’re just continuing to do things to raise the standard. We know that the standard right now is down the road a few towns over, but we’re going to fight every day until we’re the standard and the standard of college softball. That’s our mentality – just keep going until we are the best.”

On the program’s continued growth under Kenny Gajewski:

“I think that you can ask any of our transfers that this is different than any other school in the country. Even just with the open-door policy, I can call or text him whenever. Any of the coaches. Not a lot of schools have little things like that, and that goes back to having relationships with our coaches and it translates to the field. I just think we’re all comfortable in our own shoes, and they bring kids in and they’re not changing all of their mechanics to one way. Our coaching staff believes that there are different was to hit, different ways to field and pitch, and that’s what they want us to do. They’re just behind us on whatever we want to do and will continue to be there for us.” 

Sophomore Sydney Pennington (IF)

On her willingness to do anything to win:

“I think that Coach G plays a big part in that. He has always told me that if you serve other people, it’s just going to be more rewarding for you. I think that moving to third base has improved my hitting, it has improved my fielding and it has helped me build a great relationship with Kiley (Naomi). I told myself this year that I wasn’t going to make her have the same experience that I had my freshman year. I think thinking about that, I just couldn’t help but do whatever the team needed. And if I’m playing better, it helps the team even more, so just serving others really in that regard is probably my mindset this year.”

On being named a team captain:

“I’ve always wanted to lead. Last year, I was kind of timid. We had a lot of seniors and Vanessa Shippy, but I think even today if I asked Shippy, she would want me to be in that spot. I have been a leader my whole life and that has helped me play better. Being in that leadership spot has helped me play better because I haven’t really thought about, ‘What if I mess up? Am I not going to be a leader?’ That has really helped me and I’m so excited to get started.”

On how excited she is for the 2019 season:

“I couldn’t even sleep last night. I was just thinking about going to Houston, the bus ride to Houston and I’m super excited. This team is so close, as everyone has said, and I think our contest mindset and focus on making it to the World Series is going to push us forward this year.”