The Transfer Portal will celebrate its fourth anniversary in October. The man in charge of leading what is perhaps the premier destination for softball players seeking a second or third home still doesn't know how to get on the actual website to see who's available.
Oklahoma State coach Kenny Gajewski admitted during a recent interview that he doesn't have a login.
There are more technologically savvy assistants on staff. He said that they don't spend a lot of time online trying to chase that thing down.
He keeps an ear to the ground for potential targets. The softball community is connected. Before anyone noteworthy enters the portal, he will usually hear about it from his players, who might know the would-be transfer from travel ball, recruiting showcases or a friend of a friend.
Gajewski said that people can keep their mouths shut.
He started hearing rumors about a transfer who could change the landscape of the 2022 season, and that's how it happened.
If Miranda Elish were to return to college softball, where would she go?
His reaction was one of self-preservation, he didn't want to see her at the conference.
Elish was a threat at the plate. She went 49-2 in her first two seasons at Oregon, earning All-American honors as a sophomore before transferring to Texas, where she won National Player of the Year during the shortened 2020 season, posting a 1.58 ERA and a batting average of.
She moved to Alabama to work as a private softball instructor after she hung up her cleats for a fifth year.
He remembered some people who knew Elish.
He figured that he should dig in and see if it is true.
He could try to bring Elish to Oklahoma State if he fought against her in the Big 12. All-Americans Carrie Eberle and Alysen Febrey were two of the high-profile transfers that the program had success with.
Oklahoma State would not waste a moment, Gajewski decided. The program would attack when Elish entered the portal.
He didn't hold back when he got her on the phone.
If we are not in your mix, it is all good, he said.
Elish connected with the small-town feel when she went to Stillwater. The visit went well because they barely talked about softball. He claims to have seen a woman in her eye.
The Cowgirls won 48 games and reached the Women's College World Series, making them even better after Elish committed to them.
She remembers watching her first session. He would be lying if he said he didn't notice rust after a year away from the game. She had a good touch despite being a little erratic.
He said that she was her confidence that impressed him the most. She carried herself in this way.
He said that he was like, "This is one bad girl."
It was bad, in a good way.
After a few years of doing this, Gajewski thinks he has a good idea of how a potential transfer would fit into the program. It is something he takes for granted. He gathers the leadership group, a selection of mostly veteran players, and fills them in to get feedback when he offers a transfer.
He said that they only pushed back when the leadership group flagged some character issues that he wasn't aware of.
He said that walking away from the prospect was difficult. They are familiar with the standard.
It is that standard that Pennington points to as the reason why players are used to outside competition.
The veteran third baseman said it was difficult for some people. If you have won the job, there shouldn't be a problem with transfers. If there is an issue, you need to work harder and prove that you can play.
Pennington signed with Oklahoma State out of high school, after growing up an hour's drive from campus in Sand Springs. She was a member of the Big 12 All-Freshman Team and last season became the school's career home run leader. She has been charged with hosting potential transfers on visits.
She might take them to Eskimo Joe's to show off the "eclectic" vibe of the area. She will usually stop in at Karsten Creek Golf Course, where she will have time built in with the president of the university, Kayse Shrum.
Pennington knows the routine. She will admit that when she hosted Elish it felt different.
She said that she was like a little starstruck. I was reminded of Miranda Elish.
Pennington was not sure what to expect. She said that Elish was a celebrity in the world of softball. Taking her around town felt real.
The two got to know each other over the course of the visit. Pennington said Elish was funny. She knew how much Elish missed the game and was looking forward to competing at a high level during her final season.
It was odd. Without Elish, Oklahoma State would have been fine.
Pennington remembers Elish saying during her visit that she wanted to come to OSU because they don't need her, but they need her.
Elish didn't want to come back when she left in 2020. She said she had to take care of her mental health first. She had to figure out what her identity was without softball.
The time away helped put things in perspective. She watched the NCAA tournament and felt a thrill as James Madison made its Cinderella run. She said that she felt a sense of unfinished business when she watched Odicci Alexander emerge as a star.
She put her name in the portal as a graduate transfer not knowing what to expect after training girls in softball and seeing how much they enjoyed the game. She knew that she needed to return to a place where she would be valued more than just a softball player, a place with real relationships, and a place that felt like a family.
She felt as if Show and Eberle chose to enter the transfer portal for similar reasons when she spoke to them. Since they were both still there, they found something more success at OSU. Eberle is a graduate assistant and Show is a frequent visitor.
It was the epitome of what Elish heard from Gajewski during the recruiting process: "If you're just trying to bridge a gap, I don't want you here." I want people to be here for a long time.
Elish was sold.
She said that after playing against OSU and watching their program the last couple of years, she knew that they epitomized what she wanted in a program.
Before the deal was done, Gajewski talked to his junior pitcher and first team All-Big 12 pick about how she felt. The addition of Elish would affect her the most because she was poised to become the ace of the staff.
The man didn't hit an eye. She agreed that they could benefit from Elish. She said that she still wanted to be an All-American and that she was confident that all his players had the same kind of confidence.
When you get a group of women that are powerful, together and all on the same page, they can conquer the world, said Gajewski.
It hasn't happened overnight. Oklahoma State lost three of five games.
The team was not clicking for a long time.
It takes time to jell with so many newcomers.
Elish was also finding her way in a new place. It was also former Illinois State All-Missouri Valley Conference pitcher Morgan Day, former Florida All-SEC newcomer catcher Julia Cottrill and former Kansas All-Big 12 infielder Morgyn Wynne. Five of the six-person freshman signing class were listed among Extra Inning Softball's Extra Elite 100 rankings.
Adding so many pieces made the Cowgirls lose their confidence. Pennington said that they believed they would be the best team in the nation.
She said that they didn't show it because they were too set on it.
The team was not bad. It was not playing to its potential. There were many mistakes in the field. The Cowgirls were not moving the runner over like they should at the plate.
It was death by a million cuts. They would let the little things slide for too long.
"We're gonna be the best team in the nation. ... I think that we were too set on that and we didn't show it." Oklahoma State third baseman Sydney Pennington
Bad weather delayed the end of a tournament, and that all came to a head. They won the first game against Minnesota. They walked seven people. An error in the seventh led to a run. Oklahoma State prevailed in the 10th.
The players were together between games. The mood was serious and it could not have lasted more than 10 minutes. They talked about not paying attention to the details. They agreed they were not living up to the standard.
The gathering was noticed by Gajewski. He was annoyed by what he saw as selfish behavior. Some players were upset by being off to slow starts, but he felt that their attitude was affecting the rest of the team.
He popped his head into the huddle and listened to what he heard.
He told his team that it was time to stop talking. It is time to start acting. Some of you are not meeting the high standard because of your own success. You will have personal success if you put that aside. It will never happen if you are not on board with your teammates.
Elish was then hit by Gajewski.
He said that she was trying to make sure that she did not affect anyone.
Elish threw a no-hitter in Oklahoma State's win over Minnesota.
The Cowgirls are ranked 7th.
A change in his team has been seen over that time. He said it has been cool to watch. He had to sit his All-American outfielder for a few weeks due to a slump. She had three hits in the two-game series against Iowa State.
Since that point against Minnesota, we've been better.
The improvement will be put to the test in the form of a three-game series at No. 1 Oklahoma to end the regular season.
Elish said it took her a few weeks to get back into the routine of a college athlete, and so far she has been a steady force, ranking first on the team in batting average and slugging. She is 13-4 as a pitcher. She has given up 31 earned runs and stuck out 128 hitters.
Oklahoma State has the talent and is headed in the right direction. The question is whether there is enough time to reach its full potential.
Elish said that even though they may take their bumps, they learn from them and get better the next game. We have to take one game at a time in order to do that.