After helping set the softball standard at Oklahoma State, Kelly Maxwell hopes to lead a new group of Cowgirls pitchers to glory.
When asked what kinds of expectations she places on herself as one of the pillars of a new era of softball at Oklahoma State, Maxwell’s mantra is simple, but has remained true to Stillwater since her arrival.
“I just want to leave it better than I found it,” she said.
The Cowgirls are better with Maxwell, well — his 2022 NFCA First Team All-American arrival and subsequent career coincided with the most successful period in the school’s softball history.
Maxwell, winner of the Big 12 Co-Pitcher of the Year with Oklahoma freshman phenom Jordy Bahl, was the ace in OSU’s tournament that helped the Cowgirls make the Women’s College World Series last season for the third year in a row (not counting the pandemic-cancelled 2020 season). .
– D1Softball (@D1Softball) June 28, 2022
The race marks the first time that the program has reached the first stage in the college softball championships for three consecutive championships.
Having never played in a WCWS 10-game national championship series, Oklahoma State was agonizingly close again in 2022, losing in the semifinals as the No. 7 seed. They were beaten twice by Big 12 rival Texas.
OU then outscored the Longhorns 26-6 in two games to repeat as national champions, leaving Maxwell and the rest of the OSU team wondering what it might have been.
However, if you ask Maxwell (now a redshirt freshman entering the 2023 season), the team mentality shifted dramatically from her first day on campus to the semifinal defeat.
While qualifying for the WCWS was once a dream, it has now become the criterion for program success, and the team doesn’t plan to stop their dreams there.
“Since I started in 2018, it’s been like we didn’t really think we could make it to the World Series and things like that,” Maxwell said. “It would be like, ‘Oh, it would be cool to get there,’ and then whatever… And I think our seniors were here last year and this year as well, we’ve made it now (enough times) that it’s not just a benchmark. There (WCWS) is the expectation, but the standard is to take it all in, and win it.”
Oklahoma State certainly has the talent to win.
Cowgirls is ranked #3 in the D1Softball Top 25 He was released earlier this week, falling behind fellow UCLA and rival Bedlam Oklahoma, who are seeking to be the first college softball team to contend for three-peats since the Bruins did so from 1988-1990.
The Sooners finished with a record-breaking 59-3 record in 2022, and one of those defeats came at the hands of the Cowgirls, who pulled off an eight-game 4-3 victory over OU in the Big 12 Softball Championship title game to upset the team. Soon Big 12 double.
Maxwell started the game against a strong Oklahoma lineup and allowed one run on four hits in three innings. Morgan Day came in relief and went the rest of the way, holding off Oklahoma’s offense long enough for OSU to pull off a historic first half overtime win and first Big 12 softball title in program history.
Of all the silverware Oklahoma could have won in 2022, the Cowgirls made sure that at least one trophy eluded their rivals — and they assured they wouldn’t be taken lightly for the foreseeable future.
“We want to have that steady rise, through conference and things like that,” Maxwell said. “So when you get to the Big 12 Championship game and the tournament and the postseason and things like that, we’re still on that slope and we haven’t played our best up until that point.”
– OSU Cowgirl Softball (@cowgirlsb) September 8, 2022
Besides being one of the best returning pitchers in the country with a 21-5 record, 1.22 ERA and 313 strikeouts, there’s an additional role for Maxwell this year: getting the new gears of the cowgirl spin up to speed.
Today he’s now on OSU’s coaching staff as alumni manager, while fellow All-American and consensus All-Big 12 first-team Miranda Eilish (13-4, 2.09 ERA in 104 innings pitched in 2022) has also graduated. That leaves sophomore Tatum Clopton (nine innings last season) as the only returning pitcher, besides Maxwell, to have any experience on the mound for the Cowgirls.
This program gave me everything and more in one year. I am grateful for every experience and friendship I’ve made along the way. I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity of a lifetime @tweet @tweetRepresenting OSU was the greatest honor. Cowgirl forever 🧡 https://t.co/tHBJKx6rAU
– Morgan Day (@MorganDay_29) June 7, 2022
The departures meant coach Kenny Jagowski and his staff hit the transfer gate hard, and it looks like OSU has found some gems.
Alabama transfer and senior Lexi Kilfoyle (28-11, 2.06 ERA, 267 strikeouts in 54 appearances with the Crimson Tide) have deep postseason runs in her purse, having been part of the Bama team that made the 2021 WCWS, while Virginia Tech transfer Ivy Rosenberry ( 8-4 in 23 games with the Hokies) was part of a Tech team that won 83 games combined in the past two seasons, with plenty of room to grow as a junior.
Maxwell also praised freshman pitcher Kira Aycock, an elite recruit from Georgia who can make a difference in OSU’s rotation down the line.
In the end, Maxwell was tasked with showing all of the new faces exactly what the up ante class looked like.
“I’m able to work with them and show them the way, but I also think everyone brings something different to the table,” Maxwell said. “It’s cool that I’ve been able to kind of work with all of them, just kind of showing them the ropes and how things are done here.”
How things are done in Stillwater, as Maxwell previously pointed out, has changed in recent years. The goals are different. Dreams are higher.
Cultural shifts do not happen overnight, but are sustained and exacerbated good habits and inclinations which eventually translate into historical endeavors. Oklahoma State softball has rarely been a doormat, but the best of the best? It hasn’t happened yet.
– Taylor Tuck (@TaylorTuck5) June 5, 2022
Even if it doesn’t reach the national title this season — though it might be the Cowgirls’ best shot in decades to get one — it’s likely that the trajectory Maxwell helped forge has laid a good foundation for softball at OSU to build upon for years to come.
This, without a doubt, leaves a better place than I found it.
“I think that’s why people want to come here,” Maxwell said. “We have a culture that makes it deep in those (post-season) workouts, but we also care about each other as people outside of softball, and so I think they really value being valued as someone outside of softball. I think that’s what will carry them and more buying and things like that to make it far “.