'That look': OU softball catcher Kinzie Hansen puts on serious face, flashes serious talent
Nicole May remembers being on the receiving end of the stare.
She was pitching for her high school softball team in California, facing Kinzie Hansen and her team. May and Hansen had been travel ball teammates for several years — Hansen was regularly the catcher when May pitched — and they were both committed to play college ball at Oklahoma.
But as May looked at her friend standing into the batter’s box that day, she realized this was all business.
“I’m going to school with this girl,” May thought, "and she’s just staring me down right now.”
May wasn’t the first to get the stare, and she definitely won’t be the last.
As OU prepares for another trip to the Women’s College World Series and an opener Thursday against James Madison, there are many reasons the Sooners have emerged as the favorites, even with a field as loaded as any we’ve ever seen in Oklahoma City. But Kinzie Hansen embodies what sets OU apart — the Sooners' great depth of talent.
On almost any other team, she would be a superstar. She hits in the cleanup spot. She guns out any runner who dares try to steal a base on her. But in Norman, she isn’t as big a name as Jocelyn Alo or Tiare Jennings or Jayda Coleman.
But the Sooners' biggest strength is their depth, waves of talent that just keep crashing down on opponents until they're sunk.
Hansen is the face of that.
And when she is in game mode, that face as serious as a heart attack. It features the stare, of course, but it is steely. Stern. Stank.
That last descriptor, by the way, was Hansen's own.
She has the look of a mom whose kids have started acting up during church.
“It’s funny that you say that,” Hansen said, “because I’ve actually gotten a lot of comments about my face on the field.”
Yes, Hansen smiles. A lot, actually. Even on the field, she will flash a grin. She has also been known to look exasperated, amused, annoyed and excited. She isn’t emotionless.
But when it’s time to get serious, she looks it.
“I feel like my style and the way that I play is generally very aggressive,” she said. “It’s kind of just a mindset of No. 1, being a catcher and No. 2, that’s just who I am and the way that I play.”
Her mom, Nicole, remembers that serious switch flipping when Hansen started playing travel ball at 12. Then when she started working the former UCLA catcher and position guru Jen Schroeder, Hansen turned it up another notch.
“The standards that she sets for herself are absolutely ridiculous,” Nicole Hansen said. “Her dad and I are constantly talking to her, saying to her, ‘You know, (ups and downs are) part of the game.’
“She’s never really satisfied. She thinks that she can be better, no matter what she’s doing.”
OU coach Patty Gasso believes that approach as fueled Hansen during the postseason.
“I don’t think she had, to her standards, the greatest Big 12 regular season,” Gasso said, “and maybe she’s trying to make up for some of that right now.”
Hansen has been a beast in the postseason, which is her first after the pandemic cut short her freshman season a year ago. She has hit six of her 21 home runs since the regular season ended, five in the Big 12 tournament and one in the super regionals. She also had a hit against Washington on Saturday that was misplayed, got all the way to the wall and allowed her to score.
“I can feel her every time she’s at the plate,” Gasso said.
But she believes Hansen’s impact when she’s behind the plate has been even bigger.
“She is a very daunting presence,” Gasso said. “She has got an absolute gun behind the plate.”
Opponents know it; they have only attempted to steal nine times on the Sooners.
Just three have succeeded.
Look around the country, and you’ll quickly see how impressive those numbers are. Arizona catcher Dejah Mulipola is slated to play for Team USA in the Olympics later this summer, but Wildcat opponents have stolen more bases (10) than Sooner opponents have attempted.
Arizona opponents are 10 of 16.
Alabama opponents with SEC player of the year Bailey Hemphill largely holding down catching duties are 35 of 44.
Washington opponents with 2020 Johnny Bench Award winner Morganne Flores were 41 of 48.
OU’s numbers, again — three of nine.
“That is just a staggering, phenomenal statistic to me,” Gasso said.
When Hansen sees an opponent likes to run, she relishes the challenge. Washington, for example, came into super regionals with 63 stolen bases, averaging more than one a game and ranking behind only UCLA and Oregon in the Pac-12.
The Huskies tested Hansen in the fourth inning of the opener, and after she gunned down the runner with a bullet of a throw, they never tried again.
“She knows she’s good,” Gasso said. “She doesn’t walk around and tell you that, but she has a style about her that you know she knows.”
May said, “She’s a competitor like nobody else.”
You can see it in the way Kinzie Hansen has played these past few weeks, but if you need any more proof, take it from someone who has witnessed the serious face and been on the receiving end of the stare.
“Definitely has that look,” May said. “Very intimidating.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
Thursday's games at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium (all games on ESPN):
11 a.m.: OU vs. James Madison
1:30 p.m.: OSU vs. Georgia
6 p.m.: Arizona vs. Alabama
8:30 p.m.: Florida State vs. UCLA