After leading the Greenwave to multiple state titles, Rileigh Ricken was prepared to do it all over again.
But on a much bigger stage.
In her first season at Southwestern Oklahoma State, a Division II program, Ricken was thrown into the action as the freshman led the team in strikeouts and ERA after being dubbed one of the starting pitchers. Despite a 3-10 record, Ricken led the team with a 4.89 ERA in 78.2 innings pitched, striking out 29 against 31 walks.
“The season definitely didn’t go as we had planned but going into it, we all knew it was going to be a building year given we got new coaches,” said Ricken, whose Bulldogs finished with an 8-37 record (4-29 in conference).
Winning championships for the green and white helped prepare Ricken’s mindset for college. But the advanced talent and increased time required to put into the offseason and regular season made this year challenging.
“The transition was tough but incredible at the same time,” she said. “The amount of dedication you have to have to achieve your goals at this level is amazing.”
It’s nothing short of a part-time job, committing at least 20 hours a week to softball alone.
“With two-a-day workouts and practices, it’s a lot to adjust to but I love it,” Ricken said. “You have to love the game of softball and I do, so balancing school and sports weren’t an issue.”
While the team had a rough season and Ricken was going through adjustments from high school to college, the ex-Greenwave star stood out. Along with being the starting pitcher, Ricken was also recognized as the school’s player of the week.
“That was a huge honor, as well,” Ricken said.
Unfortunately, Ricken encountered a minor setback after the midway point of the season.
Ricken dislocated her knee and separated her sternum and clavicle, which landed her on the disabled list for almost a month. The knee injury kept Ricken off the field for a week during the fall offseason.
“With an injury, you really have to be a team player and know your roll on the team and stay positive and push to get better,” Ricken said. “I have done immense amounts of physical therapy and have been starting workouts, which is very exciting.”
As for next year, Ricken knows what to expect and plans on conditioning in the fall and fine-tuning her pitching.
“My goals for the offseason are to build up my cardio and endurance and perfect my spins as far as my rise ball and curve ball go,” she said. “I work hard every day working out and doing drills to become the best that I can be. I hope to keep improving through my senior year and give my team the best that I can.”
And she likes to work on her hitting, even though she doesn’t bat as much as she did with the Greenwave. Ricked posted a .238 batting average in 21 at-bats while belting one home run and driving in five.
“I also do a lot of hitting drills and fielding because although I am a pitcher I like to have all aspects of the game down,” Ricken said. “In the summer, I work from five to three and then when I’m off, I have workouts and practices as well as giving lessons and umpiring to get girls aspiring to be great players as well.”
Despite the injuries and challenges to finding success this year, Ricken said her experience on and off the field has been great. Friendships have come easily for her, and she also made the Dean’s List with a 3.57 GPA and is majoring in athletic training with the goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
“I created some amazing friendships and some special bonds with teammates,” Ricken said.
But the relationship with her high school still remains strong.
Ricken continues to follow the Greenwave and was ecstatic when Fallon won state this past season for the second year in a row. She still keeps tabs on graduated senior Ali Tedford, who will play at Nevada, and incoming senior Megan McCormick , who leads a strong senior class next year, and will have a good shot at breaking Ricken’s home run record.
“I followed it all the way through and am so proud to be a Greenwave alumni,” Ricken said. “The excitement of the games and seeing each one of my ex-teammates excel was truly a blessing.