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Queen's Corner: Keilani Ricketts
On Sale at Newsstands on May 1, 2020!
Two-time USA Softball National Player of Year Provides some insight on her Success
This spot in Sooner Spectator is usually reserved for the wit and wisdom of OU coaching legend Barry Switzer. But the King has graciously agreed to sit this issue out, thus allowing Keilani Ricketts Tumanuvao, the No. 1-ranked female athlete in OU history, to share the spotlight and answer a few questions for us.
During her four-year career at OU, Ricketts Tumanuvao was a three-time First Team All-American and two-time USA Softball Collegiate Softball Player of the Year (2012-13). As a pitcher, she won more games (133) than any player in OU history, and she finished her career with a .340 batting average and 50 home runs.
In 2013, Ricketts was 35-1 with a 1.23 earned run average and helped lead the Sooners to the program's second-ever national championship.
Sooner Spectator: There is a lot of give and take in sports. Knowing you have given a lot of yourself to be successful in softball, what in return has the game given you over the course of your career?
Keilani Ricketts Tumanuvao: I think maybe more than anything softball has taught me how to handle problems and how to approach things in daily life. For example, to be a successful pitcher, you have to have a short memory. You may give up a home run on one pitch and make a big pitch for a strikeout on the next -- but either way, you have to stay grounded and key your focus. Stay in the moment. It's always about the next pitch. Also, the relationships I have gained from playing this sport are such a big part of my experience. I've had the good fortune to build so many lasting friendships and relationships with so many of my teammates, especially at OU but going all the way back to when I was fairly young. When you are in the trenches with those teammates, you share so many experiences together, all of the highs and the lows both on and off the field. I believe the bond that is created in those moments will last a lifetime.
SS: What are the elements or factors that have helped you rise to such an elite level in the sport?
Ricketts Tumanuvao: When I was younger, I really wasn't one of the best pitchers on the team. I rode the bench a lot when I was 10 to 12 years old, but I was watching and developing that whole time. And the key for me was having coaches who believed in me, believed in what I could be. Their faith helped bring out the best in me and made me work that much harder to live up to those expectations. I was fortunate, too, in that when I was growing up I had coaches who made the sport fun, which is a huge factor in anything you want to do in life. With Coach (Patty) Gasso, she is so good at getting the best out of every one of her players. In my time with the OU program, she played a huge role in helping me become the player that I am.
Also, I am the youngest of four kids and our parents made sure we were always playing sports and staying active in everything we did. Being the youngest, I was always dragged around to practices and games of my older siblings, so I got to see up-close what they were doing and learning. We were all very competitive. I looked up to my brother (Richard) and sisters (Samantha and Stephanie) and I tried to emulate them when I was on the field.
SS: How did your time as a student-athlete at OU help prepare you for life after college?
Ricketts Tumanuvao: Going back to Coach Gasso -- she set such high standards and goals for her program. We were never complacent or content. With her, it was always about improving and doing everything in your power to be the best player or person possible. I think those lessons have stuck with me as much as anything. I learned to work hard there and to strive for greatness, and those kinds of things have helped me continue to grow and develop my game as I've gotten older. And the funny thing is, having that drive and desire to improve is what has kept the game enjoyable for me.
SS: You are almost seven years removed from college, and still getting to do something that seemingly brings you great joy. Do you consider yourself fortunate in that regard?
Ricketts Tumanuvao: I feel incredibly fortunate. To be at this point in my life and still have the opportunity to live my dream is an amazing thing. Softball is such a hard sport to make a living at after college, because the pro leagues have not been all that strong over the years. You see a lot of great players retire early because it’s so hard to do. But I've been fortunate to play professionally in Japan -- where the league is really advanced and so well run -- for 5 ˝ years, as well as continue to play for the Olympic team and be a part of something special like that.
SS: What advice would you give young female athletes hoping to pursue their dreams of playing college athletics?
Ricketts Tumanuvao: If that's what's in your heart and something you really want to do, the best advice I ever got was to find ways to outwork your competition. Work hard, be passionate about it and be a good teammate, too. Don't get lost in yourself and your own goals -- be a working part of your team because ultimately, it is a team sport.
(Editor's Note: This interview appears in the April-May 2020 edition of Sooner Spectator. To read more or subscribe, call 405-364-4515!!