Apr. 16—Patty Gasso approached Grace Lyons ahead of her freshman season and jolted her confidence with just a few words.
"You're my shortstop."
Lyons, a Peoria, Arizona, native, knew it wasn't a promise. She would have to live up to the program's expectations that hit her from the day she walked into it to retain the starting job.
"It was a big responsibility to take, and initially yes, it is kind of overwhelming once you're finally in it and you actually realize what's happening," said Lyons, who out of high school turned down scholarship offers from the likes of softball powers Arizona, Alabama, Florida and UCLA to attend OU.
"But how coach [Gasso] runs our program is once you step foot on campus and you're creating these relationships, that freshman nature is gone."
Lyons, whose team is scheduled to welcome seventh-ranked Texas this weekend, has kept her starting position since her conversation with Gasso before the 2019 season.
She's posting a single season career-high .464 batting average through 30 games and has already surpassed her single-season bests in hits (39) and home runs (11).
Lyons recalls her team's trip to Clearwater, Florida, which marked the second weekend of her rookie season, as one of the earliest moments she grasped the magnitude of her position.
"We're playing Notre Dame and Florida State, and that was the first big games that I had been in," Lyons said. "I remember hitting a home run against Notre Dame at night, and it was just this really cool feeling that, OK, I'm part of this program and I'm contributing but this sisterhood that we're a part of is something that I want to keep living and breathing and contributing to."
Lyons, who earned All-Big 12 freshman honors that year, was surrounded by a talented senior cast, which included the likes of Sydney Romero, Caleigh Clifton, Shay Knighten and Falepolima Aviu.
The freshman stole the spotlight, if only for two nights, when OU last played Texas in Austin.
Lyons cracked ESPN's top-10 plays on "SportsCenter" on consecutive nights for a pair of diving catches that helped the Sooners knock off the Longhorns both times.
Lyons has proven to be more than the star of viral-video fame.
She's steadily improved with each season and was on pace to crush her freshmen statistics as a sophomore but only played in 24 contests due to the COVID-19 pandemic cutting the season short.
Lyons and the Sooners didn't mind the reset. Despite starting the year with a 20-4 record, Lyons described it as a "rough start" compared to other years.
"That fueled us, knowing that we didn't want to have that kind of start we did in 2020," Lyons said. "... It's just super cool to see this young team, just super hungry for whatever this year has to come."
At 30-0 so far this season, Lyons and the top-ranked Sooners are ready to prove themselves as the best of the Big 12 again.
A series win over Texas ought to go a long way.
Follow me @JoeBuettner