Yukon’s Rayburn earns All-American honors at Oklahoma City University

Analise Rayburn slides safely into plate. (Photo by Hugh Scott Jr.)
By Blake Colston
Sports Writer

On a seasonably warm mid-April afternoon, the unmistakable ‘pop’ of Oklahoma City University freshman phenom Analise Rayburn putting bat to ball reverberates across Dolese Park. Her OCU teammates and spectators erupt in unison as another of her prodigious blasts sails deep toward the center field wall.

Rayburn, though, is draped in silence as she sprints out of the batter’s box and down the first base line. A Yukon High School product, Rayburn has made a career out of launching home runs, but she doesn’t take any chances.

“A lot of times, I don’t know right off the bat if it’s gone,” she said. “I don’t hear the crowd or my teammates for a few seconds.”

There’s no need to sprint this time, the ball is long gone. It’s the ninth home run of Rayburn’s freshman season and it catapults the Stars to a two-game sweep of Sooner Athletic Conference rival Southwestern Christian.

“It’s instant joy and instant gratification,” said Rayburn of the feeling immediately after hitting a homer. “I indulge in the crowd, and my team, and my coaches and just all the atmosphere.”

Joy was a big part of Rayburn’s first season of college softball. Despite some ups and downs early on as she adjusted to college pitching, Rayburn finished with a .402 average to go along with 48 RBI’s, 11 doubles, five triples and nine long balls.

That sort of production does not go unnoticed. Earlier this month Rayburn earned first-team All-America honors from both the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. She was also named the NFCA’s NAIA Freshman of the Year for Region III.

Rayburn said she cried when she found out about the accolades.

“I knew a lot of the other freshmen and I thought they would win it,” she said.

For OCU hitting coach Bobbi Bridges, Rayburn’s big season was validation. Rayburn has been on Bridges’ radar since before her freshman season at Yukon High School. She totaled 34 home runs during her YHS career, a school record. Her 17 home runs as a senior are also the most in a single season in program history. Still, her recruitment didn’t take off.

“Some other teams saw her as an afterthought,” Bridges said. “She’s been out to prove people wrong.”

A native of Alberta, Canada, Bridges enjoyed a stellar career as a player at OCU before joining the Stars coaching staff 15 years ago. She never doubted that Rayburn could play college softball.

“Her ceiling is huge,” Bridges said.

Analise Rayburn follows through on a swing during her freshman season at OCU. (Photo by Hugh Scott Jr.)

Following her senior season at Yukon, Rayburn was named first team All-State, but when she arrived at OCU in the fall of her freshman season, she was just one of many other talented players.

“I was around a team of girls that were all the best players in high school. I was constantly being challenged,” she said.

It didn’t take long for Rayburn to stand out, though. At 5-foot-11, she has a natural presence in the batter’s box, combined with a smooth swing and natural hitting prowess.

“She’s got a nice whip and good length and extension,” Bridges explained. “Obviously, she sees the ball well and gets the bat through the zone really quickly.”

Rayburn had to believe in herself, though and that took time.

“To be a power hitter, you have to know you’re good,” Rayburn said.

That epiphany for Rayburn came during a game against Texas Wesleyan on April 4. She hit a three-run home run in the second inning and finished with six RBI’s in a 12-2 victory.

“That boosted my confidence a lot,” she said.

From early April until OCU’s season ended May 17, Rayburn’s average never dipped below .400.

But Rayburn is not satisfied. Bridges walked into OCU’s softball facility earlier this week to find Rayburn working out on her own.

“She’s very humble and she works hard,” Bridges said. “That’s nice to see.”

Rayburn will play a key role for OCU moving forward, but where that will be exactly is still to be determined. She played second base for most of the 2023 season, but moved to shortstop late in the season to fill in for an injured teammate.

Next season, Rayburn could play shortstop, or she could transition into a role on the pitching staff.

“I’m excited to watch her grow as a player,” Bridges said.

Rayburn has personal goals – like hitting 20 home runs in a season before her college career ends – but she is almost completely consumed with OCU’s success as a team.

“We want to win a national championship,” she said.

And just in case Rayburn needs some extra motivation this offseason, she was nominated for the NAIA’s National Freshman of the Year, but didn’t win the award.

“We are very confident in Analise,” Bridges said.