Tuesday, June 18, 2024

THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: Still a hit in Stillwater — Vanessa Shippy-Fletcher, the Lake City High product and former Oklahoma State star, now making an impact on the Cowgirls as batting coach

| May 30, 2024 1:30 AM

You won’t be able to see her as easily this year.

She’s no longer in the first-base coaching box, often on camera with one of the Oklahoma State softball players when they reach first base.

Vanessa Shippy-Fletcher, the former Lake City High standout, is in the dugout this year, as part of a bigger role with the Cowgirls.

She’s in her first season as the hitting coach at her alma mater, which is making its fifth straight trip to the Women’s College World Series.

The fifth-ranked Cowgirls (49-10) face unranked Florida tonight (6:30 p.m. PDT, ESPN2) in the first round of the eight-team tournament in Oklahoma City.

AFTER HELPING Lake City win state 5A softball titles in 2011 and 2013, “V” fell in love with the small-town charm of Stillwater, Okla., and signed with Oklahoma State, a program which had qualified for the postseason just five times in the previous 16 years. 

Shippy, of course, helped change that. 

After the Cowgirls fell short of the postseason her freshman season, Shippy helped Oklahoma State reach the postseason each of her final three seasons.

She was a three-time All-American at Oklahoma State, and two-time Big 12 Player of the Year.

In each of her last three seasons in Stillwater, the Cowgirls went out in the regional round, falling one round short of the Women’s College World Series. 

After her playing days at Oklahoma State ended, Shippy-Fletcher was an assistant coach at Syracuse for two seasons, before returning to Stillwater in 2021, where she was a volunteer assistant the past three seasons under Kenny Gajewski, who took over as Cowgirls head coach in 2016 — Shippy-Fletcher’s second season in Stillwater.

Under Gajewski, Oklahoma State has reached the postseason every year but 2020, when the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Shippy-Fletcher’s four seasons back in Stillwater, the Cowgirls are 192-52.

“I pinch myself every day," Shippy-Fletcher said earlier this season, in an interview published in “The O’Colly,” Oklahoma State’s student newspaper. "The reason I chose Oklahoma State in high school was because I wanted to choose a program that I felt like I could make a difference in. And when I made that decision, I just figured it’d be as a player. It’s really a dream come true to continue to be a part of the process this program continues to make. Especially under Coach G's leadership.”

DURING THE offseason following the 2023 season, Gajewski fired his hitting coach and hired Shippy-Fletcher, a .404 hitter in college, to replace her.

"It was the right change," Gajewski told “The O’Colly” before the season. "At the end of each day, I have to do what's best for this program. I've made some good choices in the past, I've made some not so good ones, and not trying to throw any shade in any way, it's just I'm gonna make the moves that I think are best for us and for the long term health of this program.”

In three of the past four trips to the Women’s College World Series, Oklahoma State went 1-2. In 2022, Texas prevented the Cowgirls from reaching the best-of-3 championship series.

This year?

Oklahoma State’s biggest nemesis in its recent run has been in-state rival and second-ranked Oklahoma, which has won three straight Women’s College World Series, and five of the last seven. But this year, Oklahoma State took two of three games and won a Bedlam Series on the Sooners’ home field at Norman, Okla., for the first time since 1993. 

Texas, also of the Big 12, is ranked No. 1. But in March, Oklahoma State took two of three from the Longhorns in Stillwater.

Oklahoma State went 3-0 on its home field to win an NCAA regional, then swept Arizona 2-0 to win a Super Regional at Stillwater to advance to the Women’s College World Series.

And Shippy-Fletcher has been a big part of that rise by the Cowgirls.

"She's ready,” Gajewski said of Shippy-Fletcher in her role this year as Oklahoma State’s hitting coach. “And she's proven that since the day we started in December and the way she's handled our kids, their mental approach, their physical approach, their emotional approach. She's done it all well. So I've been very happy with her.”

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 208-664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @CdAPressSports.