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Lyon Hearted

Published on February 26, 2024

Sarah Freymuth

This article appears in the Fall 2023 issue of the FCA Donor Publication. The FCA publication is a gift from our FCA staff to all donors giving $50 or more annually. For more information about giving, visit here.

It was the perfect scene capping off an almost perfect season: Grace Lyons and her teammates euphoric in the center of USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla. wearing crimson and cream softball jerseys smeared with grass and dirt. Their smiles stretched as wide as the Oklahoma Sooners’ 53-game win streak.

Their 3-1 win over the Florida State Seminoles allowed the Sooners to clinch their third national championship in a row, seventh of the program.

For the five-year starting shortstop and team captain, it was the culmination of a celebrated career. As fans screamed their throats hoarse with cheers of congratulations and the NCAA crew set up for post-game awards, Lyons treasured the pinnacle moment. As wonderful as the accomplishment felt, an even greater joy welled up inside.

A Curiosity of Faith
Lyons grew up with her dad, mom and brother Max in a home that valued Christian morals. They attended church and small groups, but she was more of an observer rather than participant. The desire to stand for Jesus stirred in her, but she fearfully squelched it.

“I remember going to summer camp with church, and during the altar call, I was sitting in my seat and wanted to stand up, but I was so worried about my image,” said Lyons. “I wasn’t ready to lay down my pride and admit that I needed Jesus.”

Lyons’ quiet longing for Christ continued into eighth grade when she met Kelly Schmidt, a woman on FCA staff in her hometown of Peoria, Arizona. Schmidt is currently the FCA Grand Canyon University Director who was working with middle and high school Huddles when she and Lyons crossed paths. Already meeting 1-on-1 with a high school i4VvmoQIathlete, Schmidt invited Lyons to join them since she played softball. Eager to meet a potential friend once she entered high school, Lyons agreed.

As she began her freshman year, Lyons wanted to continue meeting with Schmidt 1-on-1, and she also got involved in the high school's Huddle. Lyons began to understand and embrace a life surrendered to Jesus. She was baptized in May of her freshman year, and her and Schmidt’s discipleship journey continued, as did her boldness to share her faith and pray.

Coming Up With a Game Plan
As Lyons’ faith developed, so did her softball talent. Lyons was highly sought after at the collegiate level as one of the best players in the country. On Signing Day, Lyons announced her future home at Oklahoma University to play for the Sooners under Patty Gasso, one of the most prominent coaches in the sport who leads one of the best programs in the nation.

As college approached, Schmidt and Lyons came up with a game plan to keep her strong and steadfast among the many temptations and pitfalls of the college lifestyle.

“Kelly really helped and prepared me for college,” said Lyons. “We came up with my mentality going on campus: I'm going in to make an impact on the culture rather than be impacted by the culture.”

Right away, in the locker room, Lyons was introduced to a group of seniors serious about their faith. She quickly plugged into an OU chapel with FCA Area Director Sarah Roberts. Lyons earned a coveted starting spot her first year, gaining respect from teammates on the field. As sophomore year rolled around, she began inviting her team to Bible study and church.

“It slowly became, ‘Okay, this is what I'm doing, this is what I'm about,’” she shared.

Cultivating Courage
Lyons would soon become known for stepping out in faith and leading prayer. Lyons and her roommates Lindsay Elam and Grace Green had begun asking their opponents to pray with them, something she’d experienced in high school.

The Sooners soon became known not only for their athletic prowess, but for post-game prayer circles. TV stations like ESPN would cover their prayer gatherings.

“I'm so proud of her,” said Schmidt. “I see how she communicates and uses her platform. She is intentional about every opportunity she has. She will either communicate the full Gospel or talk about her faith somehow.”
“Grace is like a fire and loves Jesus. She wants everybody to know about Him.”
-Kelly Schmidt, FCA Grand Canyon University Director

Would high school freshman Lyons ever imagine she’d lead top softball players in the nation in prayer on a national platform? Never. But the Lord has raised her up and put courage into her spirit.

“The Lord instilled that boldness in me,” Lyons said. “I got to the point at the end of my career, I was like, wow, the Lord chose me, and I have a responsibility to go and do something with it.”

Creating a Culture
Over the years, Lyons and a handful of other spiritual team leaders created a consistent cadence on and off the softball field, even as the Sooners became one of the most dominant programs in softball history.

A five-year starter for the Sooners at shortstop, Lyons racked up numerous awards throughout her career, including 2023 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year the third year in a row, 2023 Big 12 Conference Softball Scholar-Athlete of the Year, 2022 NFCA First Team All American, being named to the 2022 USA Softball Women’s National Team and nominated for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year nominee. This past season, she was awarded the Rawlings Gold Glove Award as the best defensive player in the nation after posting a .975 fielding percentage, committing just three errors all season.

Voted captain her fifth year, the Sooners shortstop helped keep the team culture centered around the Lord.

“People ask how does the culture get like that—How are you guys known for singing about Jesus after a game?” Lyons said. “It has to happen within the circle, in the team. You have to have someone who's willing to stand up for that, but then you need others coming alongside them who want to be a part.”

This past spring culminated in one of the most storied seasons in NCAA history. The Sooners won their third consecutive National Championship at the Women’s College World Series, ended with a historic Division-1, 53-game win streak, led the country in scoring, ERA and fielding percentage in the same season, and finished the season with a near perfect 61-1 record. The Sooners were also nominated for the ESPY Awards’ Best Team for the third consecutive year.

But Lyons would say although achieving dominance on the diamond, as incredible as that was, launched the team into the national spotlight, what stood out most was every opportunity to share the Gospel through personal connections and in the public eye, and the joy that came from it. It was the source of that joy that made Lyons and her team’s faith go viral as clips from her and her teammates’ interview during the World U4TjKtyASeries pregame where they openly shared the Gospel appeared in churches and soared across social media.

What’s Next: FCA Staff
Passionate to strengthen her sisters in the Lord, Lyons started and hosts The Players’ Conference in the summer, by players, for players, and has dreams to expand it to other sports. And, she is stepping into full-time ministry with FCA.

“FCA really helped me know my identity in college,” Lyons said. “I understood that I wasn't just a softball player, so that helped me not live, breathe and die softball.”

As her husband Michael, also an OU athlete, pursues a career in the NFL, Lyons is setting up the next steps with FCA and ready to transition from college sports into college ministry.

And the realm of college ministry is ready and waiting for a bold-hearted leader like Lyons.

“I’m confident in handing off the Kingdom of God to the next generation, to leaders like Grace,” Schmidt said.


Photos courtesy of OU Athletics