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Alex ScarboroughESPN Staff Writer
- Covers the SEC.
- Joined ESPN in 2012.
- Graduate of Auburn University.
Before she ever dreamed of putting on an Oklahoma uniform, before she ever landed in Norman, launched her first collegiate home run and emerged as a power-hitting superstar, before she did the unthinkable and broke the NCAA career home run record, Jocelyn Alo was a 10-year-old growing up along the north shore of O’ahu, poised to take the first step in a long and historic journey.
The 45-minute drive that day from her small village of Hau’ula to Waipi’o went by faster than normal as she felt a wave of excitement. They were on their way to CORPS Field, which had 12 new baseball and softball diamonds. But she wouldn’t be playing softball. She was the only girl on the East Side Park Rats baseball team, not that she was bothered by the distinction. She’d recently bought a new bat — a slick, black and silver Easton Omen — and it felt like Thor’s hammer in her hands.
During her first at-bat, she got a pitch she liked, a breaking ball, but she was so anxious that she was a little further out onto her front foot than she’d like to be when she made contact. Still, it felt good, solid. Actually, it felt like nothing she’d ever experienced. It was totally effortless, she said, as she swung through the ball and watched as it sailed toward center field. It was roughly 240 feet to the wall in dead center, and the ball just kept going and going and going — back, back, gone.
Not only was it the first outside-the-park home run she’d ever hit, it was the first time anyone had hit it over the fences at the new field. More than a decade later, she can still remember how powerful she felt in that moment. Everyone went crazy as she rounded the bases, herself included.
“It’s a pretty addictive feeling,” she said before making an admission. “And I like watching the ball fly, I do.”
It’s a good thing, because later in the same game she watched her second career home run fly away. Her memory is remarkable. The left-field fence measured about 200 feet, she recalled, and she cleared it. And unlike the first homer, the second came with an unspoken message demanding the boys’ respect: “I come here to play. I don’t come here to just stand around, you know?”
She’d eventually compete in home run derbies, and because she’s Jocelyn Alo Home Run Queen, she’d win.
“All the boys would be pissed off,” she said, “and I’m like, ‘Well, you know what? Be better.”
Eventually, she’d leave the boys behind, becoming one of the most sought-after recruits in college softball, signing with Oklahoma and immediately laying claim as one the best power hitters in the game. A fifth-year senior now, she’s climbed the home run charts — past greats like Laura Espinoza, Stacie Chambers, Stacey Nuveman and Jessie Harper — and shattered the career record held by former Sooners legend Lauren Chamberlain. Ahead of her last NCAA tournament, she’s looking to build upon her lead.
This is the story of her journey, told through pivotal stops along the way.
Home run No. 1
It took only five innings and two at-bats for Alo to launch her first collegiate home run. The date was Feb. 9, 2018. The opponent was Weber State.
Alo remembers it well: “It went over left-center field at GCU.”
Everyone else in the Oklahoma dugout at Grand Canyon University for the season opener that day remembers it, too, mostly because they all seemed to sense it was coming. JT Gasso, the team’s hitting coach, wasn’t the least bit surprised her first homer came so quickly. He knew she was blessed with uncommon natural power. Watching her round the bases, he said he thought to himself, “Here we go. This is the start of it.”
Why all that confidence in a true freshman? Because she was a star from the very beginning. Oregon offered her a scholarship in the seventh grade. Cal did the same a year later and she committed. Fast-forward to her junior year of high school, and the softball community was set abuzz when the power hitter from Hawaii reopened her recruitment.
JT remembers hearing the news at the ballpark and immediately opening up YouTube to search out clips of Alo hitting. He was shocked by what he saw.
“The very first thing that comes up when you typed her name back then was her wrestling video, and so I’m watching it like, ‘What the heck is this?'” he recalled. “And I keep watching it and she separated her opponent’s shoulder to win the match and it was like, ‘Oh. My. Goodness.’ The pure physicality of it was something that you just don’t see from players. It was impressive.”
Alo, as it turns out, was the girls’ state wrestling champ.
JT called his mother, head coach Patty Gasso, and told her, “You have to watch this. You won’t believe what you’re seeing.”
“A dislocated shoulder later and I’m like, ‘Uh, I need her,'” Patty said.
It took some work recruiting her, of course. The staff tried to dress up Norman and give it as Polynesian a look as possible, which is no small task. But whatever they did worked.
Sure, she had to get used to being so far away from home and the different style of food. She had to get used to lifting weights and conditioning and all the other things freshmen go through. But put a bat in her hands and Alo was as close to ready-made as it gets in college softball.
Patty said her attitude, which was revealed in that YouTube clip, helped.
“She just had this look of not being denied,” she said. “And I guess that’s the one thing that stayed with me from the first moment I saw her until now. Whatever she has wanted or dreamed of, she has not been denied.”
Home run No. 30
With this SOLO SHOT, @OU_Softball’s Jocelyn Alo ties the NCAA DI freshman single season home run record with her 30th! #WCWS pic.twitter.com/eoFR29yi17
— NCAA Softball (@NCAASoftball) June 2, 2018
Even before Alo hit her first home run, Lynnsie Elam was impressed by what she saw on the travel ball circuit. Watching Alo hit, she said, “You could tell she was already on a different level.”
When Elam arrived at Oklahoma later as part of a four-person freshman class, it was more of the same. While Elam, Eliyah Flores and Alexa Shultz felt the growing pains typically associated with rookies, Alo fell right in with the stars of the team in Sydney Romero, Caleigh Clifton and Kelsey Arnold.
“I was like, ‘Dang, this chick is insane,’ because there was definitely a learning curve for the other three of us,” Elam said.
But there was no jealousy or animus. It was quite the opposite, as Elam said the rest of the freshmen formed The Jossie Fan Club.
“From the very beginning, we would all look at each other and be like, ‘She’s gonna break the home run record,'” Elam said.
To say that publicly in 2018 might have been foolish. But look at what happened after Alo’s first home run: She went on to lead the team in batting average (.420), RBIs (72), total bases (170), slugging (.977), on-base percentage (.549) and walks (14).
And she led the country in home runs.
Oklahoma made it all the way to the Women’s College World Series and lost to Washington in the semifinals. But without Alo, they might not have made it that far, as her 29th and 30th home runs gave the Sooners the lead in both of its WCWS wins against Arizona State and Florida.
Home run No. 55
Through 2½ seasons — 145 games to be exact — Alo was the picture of consistency. During that time, she hit 54 home runs, and her career on-base percentage was north of .500 as she walked twice as often as she struck out.
But then COVID-19 spread and led to the 2020 softball season being called off and players being sent home that March.
For the first time in her life, Alo couldn’t play the game she loved. Being in quarantine for so long got to her, she said, and by the time they were given the all-clear to return to school and practice, she wasn’t mentally or physically invested.
“Honestly,” she said, “I was meh toward softball. I wasn’t really vibing with it. And then I came back and was very out of shape and, yeah, I got exposed.”
She was dealing with personal things, she said, and didn’t have the greatest fall practice. She felt herself turning toward negative thinking and self-doubt. Then she heard people talking about her potential as if it was something she might not be capable of reaching. That word — potential — is a no-no within the program, because what’s the good of potential if it’s unrealized?
As the season approached, Alo remembers thinking to herself, “I don’t really know how this is gonna go. I’m not in the greatest headspace right now.”
But she forged ahead, and during the opener against UTEP on Feb. 11, 2021, she homered to right field in her first at-bat.
Alo laughs because she knows it doesn’t make sense.
“It ended up being one of my best seasons,” she said. “So it’s funny how things work.”
“Quite honestly,” Patty said, “I think everybody was in that space because there was a lot of anxiety about, ‘Will we continue to play? Will we get the season off?’ Some of our athletes were depressed. I think some of them were not doing a lot [in terms of conditioning ], she wasn’t the only one. She and many more came back and they were not ready to play.
“But that was just a matter of us getting together and getting going, and once we did, I felt everybody kind of got back and in the right space.”
Home run Nos. 67-75
Not only did Alo bounce back, she bounced back better than she was before. She eventually lost 20 pounds and got into the best shape of her life, she said. The doubt she felt earlier dissipated after that first game back, and she felt things click into place.
Instantly, she was reminded why she puts in the work during the offseason: Playing the game is supposed to be fun.
“I’ve never felt more free,” she said. “I didn’t feel any pressure.”
Less than a month later, on March 7, she went on a tear and hit nine home runs in seven games against Sam Houston, UT Arlington, Kansas City, Liberty and Iowa State.
She goes on stretches like that from time to time. She’s had a three-home run game, seven homers in six games, five home runs in two days.
Elam laughed when she was told those numbers.
“I mean, it just feels normal for me because we’re with her every day and we see it at practice every single day,” she said. “I mean, obviously it’s amazing. It’s amazing to hear. Obviously, we still get very excited for every single home run; whether it’s Jossie or anybody else, we are pumped and so excited. But I mean, it feels normal from her because she’s consistent like that every day.”
Home run No. 85
— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) June 5, 2021
Alo’s recall is uncanny. Asked if she remembers breaking Oklahoma’s single-season home run record — her 31st of 2021 and 85th all-time — she immediately responded, “Oh yeah. At the World Series against Georgia.”
The pitcher, Britton Rogers, was notorious for throwing off-speed. In fact, she’d struck out Alo swinging earlier in the season. But after getting two fastballs to start the at-bat, Alo had a good feeling about what she’d see next.
“I was like, ‘All right, here comes the changeup. That’s literally the only thing she’s been throwing for strikes,'” she said. “So I sat on it and it went into the right-center field stands. And as soon as I hit it, [Nicole Mendes] was on third and her hands just immediately go up like, ‘Yes!’
“I remember as soon as I hit it, I had this little smirk on my face after.”
Every once in a while she’ll see a replay of one of her home runs, notice her reaction and think, “What made you celebrate like that?”
But, truth be told, she’s earned the moment of revelry. Because what people take for granted is all the work that goes into being such a prolific hitter. The hours spent in the gym and the batting cage. The way she studies opposing pitchers, seeking out tendencies. How she dissects her own swing, looking for weaknesses.
She said she doesn’t believe her way is the only way. JT recalled her coming in as a freshman and telling him point-blank, “I will do whatever you want with my swing.” That’s not normal of a highly-decorated recruit, he explained.
And not only is she coachable, she’s interested in seeking out other people’s opinions.
“I’m curious to know what more is out there,” she said.
She went and hit with Arizona State All-American Amber Freeman. She’s also picked the brain of two-time World Series champ Shane Victorino, who is from Maui and is nicknamed The Flyin’ Hawaiian. Alo’s dream is to spend time with MLB home run champ Barry Bonds.
“I’d probably ask him, ‘Let’s go take some BP right now,'” she said. “Hopefully we would do it at the Giants’ stadium. That would be sick. But if I did get the chance to talk to him, I would just ask him, ‘How was it that you went about things, and not even just the hitting side of it but just like the pressure?’ Because he hit a lot of home runs in his day. How is it that you are such a consistent hitter?
“I would kind of think of him as the 1 percent. So how is it that you stay in that 1 percent and just being consistent — base hits, walks, on-base percentage, batting average, not even just the home runs and stuff?”
A young hitter might ask Alo the same thing.
Everyone goes through ups and downs, but it’s her consistency that people within the program marvel at — how she manages to avoid long slumps, how she hasn’t let success lead to stagnation.
“She knows that when hitters are getting caught up in outcomes, they rarely achieve them or not at the rate that they want to,” JT said. “For her, it’s about sticking to the process.”
Home run Nos. 87 and 88
JOCELYN ALO GIVES @OU_SOFTBALL THE LEAD IN THE 6TH ‼️#WCWS pic.twitter.com/37wE2h9A9n
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 10, 2021
Bouncing back from the COVID-shortened season and rediscovering her joy for the game led to a remarkable 2021 season in which Alo hit a career-high 34 home runs and drove in 89 RBIs.
But more important than the eye-popping totals was when they occurred.
After reaching the WCWS championship series, Oklahoma struggled during the first game against Florida State. Alo played well, singling and doubling in four at-bats, but the Sooners lost 3-2.
They needed more, and the next game, Alo obliged. Down 2-1 in the sixth inning — six outs from losing the championship series — Alo launched a 2-0 Kathryn Sandercock offering over the right-center field fence to give the Sooners the lead, sending the Oklahoma City crowd into a frenzy. They would score three more runs after and Oklahoma won, 6-2.
The next day, Alo wasted no time, hitting a solo shot over the left field fence in the bottom of the first inning. Oklahoma piled on with four more runs in the second and third innings and cruised to a 5-1 win and the national championship.
Elam pointed to Alo as the person they look to offensively. Without her knowing it, Elam said, “she lights a fire under the team a lot of times.”
The box score only tells part of the story when it comes to the impact of a Jocelyn Alo home run, Patty explained.
“She, in one swing, can change the outcome of the game, the direction the game goes,” she said. “Because it’s such a powerful swing, and when the ball is hit out, it goes a looooong way. So momentum just comes into your dugout so quickly and so hard. Just her presence at the plate changes the dynamic of the game. As soon as there’s that contact, everything changes — the crowd erupts, the dugout erupts and just everything changes in a split second.
“If we were behind, now we’re ahead. If there was no score, we’re up by three. And it happens in one swing.”
Home run No. 95
Jocelyn Alo smashes her 95th career home run, tying Lauren Chamberlain for most home runs in NCAA softball history.
As soon as Alo decided to return for a fifth redshirt senior season — which was never in doubt once the NCAA granted athletes an extra year of eligibility because of COVID — it was a mortal lock that, barring severe injury, she would one day break the career home run record held by former Oklahoma Sooner Laura Chamberlain. She needed only seven homers to get there.
Like in her freshman and senior seasons, Alo wasted no time, starting out the 2022 season with a home run during the opener against UC Santa Barbara. Fast-forward 1 1/2 weeks, and she hit four home runs in a single day during a doubleheader against McNeese and Houston.
The following day, she tied Chamberlain’s record with a no-doubt shot over the center-field fence against Texas State. The center fielder only took one step before giving up chase. Teammates began crowding around home plate to celebrate before Alo finished rounding first base.
After the game, Alo was all smiles. She told reporters how it was “pretty crazy” getting to this part of the home run chase — and difficult. But she said she was trying to enjoy the moment, which was “even sweeter when I get to hug my family after.”
Looking forward, she said, “Hopefully next weekend, if it happens, my mom will be there as well and my grandparents and it’ll be even more special.”
If it happens.
That turned out to be a big if because of what happened next.
What happened next was a circus that began to follow Oklahoma wherever it went. Fans packed stadiums. There were more reporters than usual, asking the same sorts of questions over and over again. The weight of expectation was too much.
JT said simply, “It sucked.”
More specifically, what “sucked” was the outside noise. People had the gall to suggest she should save the record-breaking home run for a home game, as if Alo had an on/off switch.
What “sucked” was the dizzying reaction whenever she came up to bat. First, fans packing the stadium would stomp their feet and go crazy. But then they became eerily silent right before the pitch. The extremes made Elam want to scream, “Stop! Act normal!”
What “sucked” was seeing opposing teams pitched around her even more than normal, doing everything they could to avoid being on the other side of history. She walked 16 times — multiple times intentionally — over the next eight games and was hit by a pitch once. With each walk, JT wanted to scream, “Really?!”
She was doing all the right things, taking the free pass rather than chasing bad pitches, but the result tied for the longest stretch without a home run in her career. Everyone in the Oklahoma dugout felt for her. It wasn’t fair. JT would watch Alo hit an RBI single, hear the disappointed groan from the crowd and, again, he’d want to scream, “Really?!”
“She’s got the weight of the world on her,” Elam said.
Patty watched her star pupil do something she’d never seen before: Alo was pressing.
“It was very frustrating for her,” she said.
Home run No. 96
“Everywhere I go I’m always playing for you guys, no matter if it’s on a national level or an international level. I want you guys to dream this big too.”
Jocelyn Alo was moved as she spoke with young softball players at the park where she started hitting with her dad 🥺 pic.twitter.com/2avQUx0NGh
— espnW (@espnW) March 10, 2022
Alo tried not to let her emotions show, but each day that passed without breaking the record meant more of the same tiresome questions and more of the same annoying circus.
Eventually, what should have been a fun ride morphed into something else entirely.
“I just wanted to get the record over with just because of how much buzz was around it and how many walks I was getting,” she said. “I was like, ‘Come on guys, let’s just compete.'”
The only upside to her home run drought was that it set up a potential storybook ending as Oklahoma traveled to Hawai’i for the Rainbow Wahine Classic in mid-March. It would be the first time Alo played in her home state since high school.
The day before the four-game set would begin at the University of Hawai’i, Alo and her teammates drove 45 minutes north to Hau’ula.
In a career that includes five national championships and a Hall of Fame induction, Gasso said what she witnessed as Alo returned home that day is “one of the greatest softball moments I’ve ever had.”
“Her father announced that we were coming to kind of do a promotion, like we were gonna sign autographs and mess around with the kids a little bit,” Gasso said. “And about 80 kids showed up at her home field. She lives probably a hundred yards away from where this field is, so it was where she started. She probably took her first swing ever there. And watching her talk to these kids and getting just so emotional — I mean, sobbing emotional — was just such a full-circle moment for her, talking to these kids, but also just kind of reminiscing on what it was like when her and her dad, just the two of them, were out on the field talking about hitting.”
Wearing a lei over a crimson Oklahoma T-shirt and wiping away tears, Alo addressed the crowd and told them that she carries Hawai’i and kids like them — kids like her — with her everywhere she goes.
“I want you guys to dream this big, too, and I want you to go farther than I ever have,” she said.
Two days later, against Hawai’i, she did it.
It was the sixth inning. The count was 2-1 and the pitcher hung a curveball that Alo belted 40 feet above the right-center-field fence.
The celebration was raucous, the sense of relief palpable.
Oklahoma softball star Jocelyn Alo hits her record-breaking 96th home run vs. Hawai’i on Friday night.
“To be able to hit it in Hawai’i, against Hawai’i, on the field where she won the high school state championship and all of her families who can’t ever get here [Norman] — her sisters, her mother, a huge, huge, huge family — they were all there to witness this, and it truly could not have been scripted any better,” Gasso said. “It was just, it was just the most emotional, tremendous moment. One of the best I’ve ever had as a coach, just watching her go through that.”
Gasso said she hadn’t spoken to Alo about it, but she hoped she understood what it meant not just for her and for Oklahoma, but for softball as a whole.
Alo did know. It’s part of what made the journey worth it.
“It’s a win for women’s sports in general because obviously we might not get the coverage, we might not get the media, the things that we deserve,” she said. “If I can put the sport out and just have it get the media and coverage that it deserves, then I say it’s a win.”
Home run No. 113
In the same breath, Alo turned her attention forward.
“It’s just going to continue to go up from here,” she said of the home run record. “I think it’ll be a pretty hard record to break after this, I would say.”
In the 31 games since, she’s hit 17 more home runs, bringing her total to 113 and counting.
Her latest: a solo shot over the left field fence that tied the game in the fifth inning of the Big 12 championship final against rival Oklahoma State. But instead of it being yet another in a long line of heroics, it was all for naught. Three innings later, Oklahoma walked in the winning run.
It was only the second time the Sooners have ever lost a game in which Alo homered.
Still, Oklahoma entered the NCAA tournament as the prohibitive favorite and No. 1 overall seed. On Friday, it will host Prairie View A&M as it looks to win back-to-back national championships. And if history is any guide, count on Alo to deliver. In three total NCAA tournament appearances, she’s clubbed 15 home runs, seven of which have come during the World Series.
Whether Alo finishes her career with one title or two, her place in college softball history is already guaranteed. The only question is how long her home run record will stand and what the final number will be when her season is over.
As Alo said herself, “Records are meant to be broken.”
Gasso was asked whether she agreed.
“I think this record’s gonna be really hard to break,” she said. “But if I’m doing a good job of recruiting, hopefully the answer is yes.”
In a way, Alo is already recruiting her replacement.
After games, during autograph sessions and meet-and-greets with fans, she started asking little girls, “Who’s gonna be the next one?”
A few have had the confidence to raise their hands.
Alo’s response: “All right, let’s see it.”