NCAA Women’s College World Series has arrived. 

click to enlarge RICHARD T. CLIFTON
  • Richard T. Clifton

One of the knocks on women’s sports is that they are slower and more focused on fundamentals than men’s sports. For the committed sports misogynist, women’s sports simply involve “less athleticism.” This is, of course, an expression of preference about a certain kind of athleticism as opposed to an actual evaluation of women’s sports.

If sports fans want athleticism and high-stakes competition, it is difficult to improve upon the NCAA Women’s College World Series. Every year, the best eight teams in Division I softball come to Oklahoma City to compete for the national championship.

Played on a more compact field with shorter base paths and a closer pitching mound, women’s fast-pitch softball is much faster and offense-oriented than baseball, a sport that is currently trying to figure out how to speed up games to get fans to return. The event includes activities and events for fans outside the stadium, much like a professional all-star game.

The atmosphere at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium is festive and bristling with energy. Fans and family come in from all around the country to support their teams, schools and athletes. Club teams show up in uniform, and young girls greet the college players as if the athletes are professional competitors or celebrities, even asking for autographs on softballs, uniforms and programs. The parking lot is filled with RVs, campers and television network trailers; school colors and banners turn the lot into a staging area like a medieval jousting tournament.

Inside the stadium, on OG&E Energy Field, the nation’s best softball athletes compete at the highest amateur level possible, many for the last time. While it is an option for some of the women to move on to professional teams — or Team USA — the opportunities are not nearly as lucrative as for male athletes. This is not competition as job interview; it is amateur athletics in its best form.

The slate of contestants is determined after super-regional tournaments held around the country. The double elimination World Series pits two four-team brackets against each other with the winner of each bracket playing a best two of three for the championship.

First-timers are often surprised at the level of activity in women’s softball, and not just on the field. The teams write or adapt very clever cheers that they use in the game seemingly without end. The pitchers hurl the ball at speeds greater than 60 miles per hour, speeds roughly equivalent to major league baseball pitchers when adjusted for distance. And unlike baseball and its pitching by committee approach, softball pitchers often pitch two entire seven-inning games in a day. They are athletes of the utmost stamina and skill.

Tickets sell briskly, but standing-room-only tickets are made available each day at the stadium. As the tournament progresses and the out-of-state fans go home after losses, better tickets become available for locals. Free parking is available off-site, including shuttle service from Remington Park. Information on parking, ticket prices — including packages for groups — and schedules is available at ncca.com.

Print headline: Hard hitting, NCAA Women’s College World Series has arrived.

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Greg Horton

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