After weeks of tournament play and as we head into the regular season games, there isn’t one clear front runner. Not a single dominant team that stands out against the rest nor a conference that is easily mowing down the competition. Results are showing lot of parody going into these next few weeks, as there are a lot of strong teams that are going to be reaching for the title.
Last year Oklahoma, part of the Big 12, was an extremely dominant team because Keilani Ricketts was in a league of her own as well as Michelle Gascoigne. It was obvious that Oklahoma had a phenomenal pitching staff. Not only that, but the OU also really knew how to hit the ball ball. All around—they were amazing. This year though, Ricketts and Gascoigne have graduated. So, it’s going to be interesting to see how they will play this year without these two incredible pitchers on the mound.
Tennessee is also one to watch and is at the top of the pack along with Florida in the SEC. The South Eastern Conference should definitely be strong this year with not only Florida and Tennessee but other teams like Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas A&M, Alabama— you name it, the teams in the SEC this year are all very solid and will be tough to beat.
One of the things that I think is really happening this year is that Arizona and UCLA, who have always both had amazing programs, have struggled the past couple of years. This year, however, they have really stepped up strong at the beginning of this season and have really come back super strong. So, the Pac-12 is also a conference to look out for because they have a lot of very strong teams yet again. Oregon won their first Pac-12 Championship last year and are looking great again this year. Although it’s still early on, UCLA Has just one loss and Arizona is doing just great. The Wildcats have Kenzie Fowler back on the team after a medical redshirt last year and she is just having a terrific senior year. Arizona State has won a couple of national championships over the last six or seven years so they are strong yet again. The Pac-12 is really asserting their dominance again in college softball this year so far.
Then you have the Big 12 who is not looking too shabby either. But, they are going to struggle a little bit because they have lost a lot of their big guns. Oklahoma lost their two big pitchers as I mentioned earlier. Texas lost Blaire Luna. But, one team that is really stepping up and doing well is Baylor. Baylor had a great year last year and have a good start again this year. They have Whitney Canyon who is their lefty pitcher and is one of the best pitchers in the NCAA. You can look to Baylor to more than likely win the Big 12.
Overall, I think the big thing that we see is that there is a lot of parody. There are a lot of great teams out there. I think that this year’s national championship is up for grabs. It’s going to be the team that peaks at the right time, the team that has the best chemistry. The team that is not just excited to get to Oklahoma City and the WCWS, but wants to win it. The attitude of the teams this year are going to make a big difference. The attitude that they are not just happy to be there but they want to take home the prize.
If I had to make a prediction right now, I would say if Florida can continue to stay strong and peak at the right time, they have a pretty good shot at taking home their first national championship. But, but don’t count out a couple of the Pac-12 teams. UCLA and Arizona are going to be pretty hungry because they haven’t been to the World Series or the championship series for awhile. Washington is also looking very strong this year. Coach Heather Tarr has got herself a very good softball program up in Washington.
You are seeing all of these programs really step up and work hard on all aspects of the game. This year, it isn’t good enough to just have a good pitching staff anymore. You have to have a solid team with a killer offense and defense to win the World Series and make it to Oklahoma City. A lot of these programs are very well rounded and we are seeing that on both the East Coast, West Coast and the middle of the country. It is going to be an exciting year to follow NCAA softball!!