Eight teams were welcomed to Oklahoma City on Tuesday night with a banquet and program at the Jim Thorpe Museum in Oklahoma City. The opening event of the 2011 Women’s College World Series featured presentation of the NCAA’s Elite 88 Award as well as presentation of the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award.

Following dinner, master of ceremonies Beth Mowins presented the Elite 88 Award to the starting shortstop for Oklahoma State, Chelsea Garcia. The junior boasts a 4.0 GPA in secondary education and mathematics. She has started every game for the past three seasons for the Cowgirls.

The Elite 88 Award recognizes the student-athlete with the best GPA at the finals site for each of the 88 NCAA Championships.

After recognizing academic excellence, the program moved along to honoring athletic excellence.

Hansen
SU

Two of the top-three finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award, Missouri redshirt sophomore pitcher Chelsea Thomas and Arizona State junior shortstop Katelyn Boyd, were in attendance with their teams on Tuesday evening, but it was the third finalist, Stanford junior shortstop Ashley Hansen, who received the award.

Hansen is just the second non-pitcher to earn this honor, which has gone to eight consecutive pitchers after UCLA’s Stacey Nuveman won the inaugural award in 2002.

“My team has been there for me through thick and thin this year, really the past three years. I know that its not just me out there. I have eight other girls in the lineup who are capable of getting the job done and that takes a lot of pressure off of me,” Hansen told the USA Softball website. “I wish we were here but congratulations to the eight teams here and good luck this week.”

Hansen earned Pac-10 Player of the Year honors and led the Cardinal to Super Regionals, where they won the first game against Alabama before losing a doubleheader on Friday that allowed the Crimson Tide to advance.

“From the first day that she set foot on campus, we knew she was not only a special player but a special person. If you are around her you see right away how likeable she is and how she just does things the right way. You don’t become the player she is without a lot of hard work and dedication while learning from those around you,” Stanford head coach John Rittman told the USA Softball website. “This is huge for Stanford and our program to have someone recognized as National Player of the Year. I am so proud of Ashley and all her accomplishments. She is such a team player and very deserving of this honor.”

Each of the eight teams will practice at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium on Wednesday before the 2011 Women’s College World Series throws its first pitch at 1 p.m. EDT on Thursday. All games of the 2011 WCWS will be broadcast live on the ESPN family of networks.