Perhaps the only downside of the sensational freshman year Jocelyn Alo had at Oklahoma was how remarkably high it set the bar for year two.
Last season, Alo led the nation with 30 home runs while hitting .420 and a team-high 72 RBI, and was awarded with National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American honors. She was also named Freshman of the Year by both the NFCA and Big 12 Conference. Fans across the country eagerly wondered what she would do for an encore as she entered her sophomore season as perhaps the most feared slugger in college softball.
In 51 games played so far this season, Alo is hitting .388 with 14 home runs with 47 RBIs and has struck out just 17 times in her 152 at-bats. Sophomore slump? Hardly. But after the freshman year she had, Alo’s just trying to grind through the ups and downs.
The 2017 Campbell alumna was the featured athlete in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser Hawaii Grown feature, which can be read here.
“It’s been a roller coaster, just the success I had freshman year then the year I’m having this year, it’s obviously different, the numbers and stuff,” she said. “But I’m definitely learning a lot this year on overcoming adversity and things like that and how to stay within myself.
“I would say that I definitely could have done better in some aspects. I did let what a lot of the media says get to my head. Things happened and things played out the way that they did.”
Heading into the Sooners’ series at Kansas from April 12-14, Alo was hitting .361 with seven home runs. Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso noticed that Alo was pressing too hard for some time to replicate what she had done the year before.
When the Sooners prepared go 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.”
Being the competitor she is, Alo wanted to be with the team, but eventually embraced the brief break and came out of it refreshed.
“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. “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 school work and stuff like that. It definitely helped me to reset and recharge.”
The Sooners (52-3) ended up sweeping Kansas that series, and have finished Big 12 play 18-0 for two seasons in a row.
Alo’s prep accomplishments 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 titles in softball and Star-Advertiser Position 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. Like her time with the Sabers, opposing pitchers have learned to be far more selective to Alo, who has the power to send one out whenever she swings a bat.
“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.”
Last weekend, Oklahoma powered its way to a five-inning, 12-2 mercy rule victory over UMBC to start NCAA regional play on May 17 in Norman. The Sooners then downed Wisconsin 4-0 the next day to put themselves one win away from the Super Regionals, but the Badgers returned the favor on May 19 in a 2-1 win to force a winner-take-all third matchup between the teams.
For the Sooners, the loss put an end to an NCAA Division I record single-season winning streak of 41, 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 from 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.
“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 quick, 45-minute turnaround between the two games.
Oklahoma prevailed 2-0, advancing to the Super Regionals, where it will host Northwestern in a best-of-three series starting on Friday. Starting at 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, about a half hour drive from OU’s campus.
Alo may not have hit as many homers 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. It would be Alo’s first.
But Alo has set her sights set even higher on the diamond, hoping to earn an invite in September to try out for the USA national team for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, a revival 12 years in the making after baseball and softball were by the International Olympic Committee following the 2008 games.
She may accomplish all of the above in college and beyond. If she doesn’t, she’ll still have multiple opportunities in the years to come to do so. And if she does, she’ll look back fondly at 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.”