Erica Sampson had an uneasy feeling to overcome when she first arrived at the University of Tulsa. She did so with relative ease.
After transferring from the University of Oklahoma, Sampson arrived at TU with a brief period of nervousness and trepidation. She said she felt like a newbie all over again.
“I was just trying to acclimate to the environment,” Sampson said. “It’s a smaller school and I was just getting to know the girls. I’m a junior but I felt like a freshman. Until I could prove myself, I didn’t want to be thought of as a transfer. I wanted to make a good name for myself.”
Sampson admitted that she struggled during the fall months. But now that Tulsa is in the thick of the spring season, she’s once again asserting her dominance — much her days at Tahlequah High School.
Through Tulsa’s 37 games, Sampson is sporting a .358 batting average with a team-high seven home runs. She’s also tied for the team lead in runs batted in with 26.
Needless to say, she’s settling in as a Golden Hurricane. And it didn’t take long for her teammates to accept her as one of them.
“Most of the girls are reasonably local and the others I’ve played ball against,” Sampson said. “Within a couple of weeks, we had done enough ice-breakers and got to know each other well.”
The team unity has carried over into the win column. The Golden Hurricane — ranked 16th in the most recent ESPN/USA Today poll, 17th in the coaches’ poll and 20th in the latest RPI rankings — is 34-3 and currently on a 16-game winning streak.
“We’re really a collective ball team right now and that’s awesome,” Sampson said in a recent interview with the Tahlequah Daily Press. “That’s added a lot of confidence.”
Tulsa’s three losses have come by a combined three runs. The first two were against Florida Atlantic and Georgia Tech, while the most recent was a 1-0 setback against Oklahoma in Norman on March 9.
For Sampson, the trip back to where she started her collegiate career was a little unsettling at first.
“On the way up there, I kind of had some nerves,” she said. “I listened to some music to calm myself down.”
Tulsa’s first two games at the Courtyard Marriott Invitational in Norman were against Liberty and Western Illinois. The Golden Hurricane won both games comfortably, which helped Sampson take the edge off.
“I’m glad we didn’t have to play OU off the bat,” she said. “My first at-bat was a little shaky. [But] the games went way better than what I thought. We took a tough loss at OU, but I walked out of the dugout knowing that I made the right decision and that I was supposed to be a Golden Hurricane.
“I’m definitely at Tulsa for the right reasons.”
Now Sampson and the Golden Hurricane have their sights set on the bigger picture.
“The farthest Tulsa has ever been has been a (NCAA) regional,” Sampson said. “We’re a contender for hosting a regional, and that would be a first for Tulsa. But we’re not trying to look to much into the future.”
In fact, the immediate future could prove to be crucial to Tulsa’s postseason prognosis. The Golden Hurricane, which currently owns a four-game lead in the Conference USA standings, travels to Birmingham, Ala., to take on the University of Alabama-Birmingham in a three-game set, which starts on Saturday.
“The bigger teams have the tougher teams, so they’ll have higher RPI rankings,” Sampson said, “so that makes the UAB games that much more important.”
Tulsa is 9-0 in the league with UAB and North Texas tied for second at 8-4. UAB was picked to win the conference title in the league’s preseason poll.
“This is a big weekend,” Sampson said. “We’ve been waiting to go after UAB. Winning a conference tournament would help us a lot for the NCAA tournament. We need as many RPI points as we can get in the end.”