The DII softball season is quickly approaching, and taking a stab at which eight teams will be in Chatanooga, Tennessee for the DII finals is no easy task.
How unpredictable is DII softball, especially in recent history? Each year from 2010 through 2019 saw a different national champion. Only two teams — UC San Diego in 2011 and 2012 and Valdosta State in 2010 and 2014 — appeared in multiple championship finals. There hasn’t been a repeat champion this millennium, the last coming in 1998 when California (Pa) went back-to-back.
To say Augustana (SD) will have a tough time repeating is an understatement.
But as we know, each season is a new one, the circumstances, different. I scoured the rosters for returners and big stats from 2019 to come up with our first rankings of the 2020 DII softball season. Remember, these are my picks. As the season rolls on and teams get some games under their belts, we’ll revisit the Power 10 using much of the same criteria the selection committee uses for the DII softball championship tournament.
For now, I’m depending on expectations of returners, and maybe some big impact freshmen or transfers for 2020.
DII softball rankings: The 2020 preseason Power 10
1. Augustana (SD) | 61-11 | National champions
The Vikings will certainly have some holes in the lineup to fill, but have plenty returning to make a strong case for a repeat run in 2020. It starts in the circle, where both Ashley Mickschl and Amber Elliott — who combined to make 67 starts, winning 50 games with a combined 1.84 ERA — are back. Mary Prado (.354, 17 home runs, 24 stolen bases) and top hitter Kara McDougall (.444 batting average) are back to provide plenty of pieces for another big run in 2020.
2. Texas A&M-Kingsville | 52-10 | National runners up
The Javelinas made a historic run in a program record-setting season that saw the most wins and first national championship series in their history. Top hitters Anastasia Leibas (.387, 12 home runs, 59 RBIs) and Loren Kelly (.353, 41 stolen bases) are back in this lineup, as are the Javelinas’ two big starters. Breanna Smith and Saidi Castillo combined to go 49-9 with 379 strikeouts and a 2.02 total ERA.
3. West Florida | 54-11 | DII softball championship finals
The Argos reached the final eight for the second time in the past three seasons, and seem to have enough to make another trip in 2020. Teala Howard had a monster freshman campaign, finishing in the top 10 in DII softball with a .464 average, and while this team wasn’t known for its power, Jacquelynne Poling — who tied for the team lead with five dingers — is back. If you haven’t noticed, I value returning pitching and the Argos return two good ones. Kelsey Sweatt and Grace Gilbert made 53 starts with a combined 1.68 ERA.
4. West Chester | 40-22 | DII softball championship finals
The Golden Rams were the only team to make it back to the final eight two years in a row in 2019 and with a bevy of returners, it could be a third in 2020. Both leading hitters — Emily Maseth (.395, 22 doubles, 1.056 OPS) and Bri Garber (.364, 61 runs, 16 stolen bases) — are back in a pretty familiar lineup, while three pitchers — Reilly Gearhart, Maegen Kavanagh and Jen Hanshaw — are back in the circle for another run.
5. UC San Diego | 37-17 | DII softball championship finals
In a decade of inconsistency, the Tritons we're pretty consistent, making the tournament seven times and the championship three times. Four of UCSD's top five hitters are back, including Keila Bosinger, who led the team in average (.381), home runs (6), RBI (31) and OPS (1.067). Robyn Wampler and Alanna Phillips are back in the circle after combining for 52 starts.
6. Grand Valley State | 51-10 | DII softball championship finals
The offense should be just fine for the Lakers with three of the top four hitters from 2019 returning. Nikoma Holmen (.383, 16 doubles, 12 home runs, 64 RBIs) and Lydia Goble (.361, 13 doubles, 15 home runs, 66 RBI) make any lineup amongst the most dangerous in DII softball. Where the Lakers may struggle at first is in the circle. Ace Allison Lipovsky (33-4, 0.94 ERA, 362 strikeouts) is gone but Samantha Gheris — who went 10-2 with a 3.49 ERA and 60 strikeouts over 14 starts — has plenty of experience to keep the Lakers in contention.
7. Concordia (CA) | 47-8 | Super Regionals
Talk about a strong returning cast. The Eagles return every starter from last year's Super Regionals. Every. Single. One. Callie Nunes was one of DII's best, going 33-6 with a 1.34 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 266 strikeouts. Sydney Sprinkle paced the offense (.373, 1.020 OPS and nine home runs) but this team was deep and a tough lineup from top to bottom. Returning that kind of experience after a Super Regional run is a tremendous advantage.
8. Florida Tech | 42-12 | Super Regionals
The Panthers lost to West Florida in the Super Regionals and look geared up for another big run. Mikayla Wessell who hit .370 with 18 stolen bases in 44 games while top home run hitter and two-way star Tina Velazquez Rolon is also back in the lineup. Melanie Murphy, who made 35 starts, is gone but Velazquez Rolon and Jordan Lawlis pitched to a combined 1.98 ERA in 151.3 innings pitched. They'll likely be trusted for a lot more work, but should be able to help in the rotation.
9. Young Harris | 44-20 | DII softball championship finals
The Mountain Lions made their DII softball championship finals debut in 2019 which is what gets them a spot in the preseason top 10. That said, it is going to take a lot to replace ace Nikkie Kovalsky (30-12, 1.79 ERA, 227 strikeouts) who tossed a memorable no-hitter against North Georgia in the Southeast Regionals. That said, Emily Harris (tied for a team-high .352 average), Jill Torres (.352, nine home runs, team-best 51 RBIs) and Haylie Shope (a team-best 10 home runs) are back in the lineup.
10. Cameron | 37-18 | Super Regionals
This may be a bit high, but there is a ton to like about this team. After a season of firsts, there is a lot coming back to Lawton, Oklahoma for seconds. Cameron returns both Busby twins who were amongst the team's best hitters — Breanna led the team with 19 home runs and 54 RBI, while Callie hit .371 with a 1.051 OPS. In the circle, Cameron loses one of four pitchers, but Bethany Hines, Breley Webb, and Turner Whorton are all back with experience.
The next five (in alphabetical order): Let's preface this by saying these teams are all top 10 contenders. It was very hard to separate the bottom half of the preseason Power 10 from these five teams.
Central Oklahoma: The Bronchos seem to reel off 40 wins a season in their sleep. JoBi Heath will be a lot to replace, but they always seem to have pieces ready to go.
Indianapolis: The Greyhounds return not one, but two 23-game winners in Lauren Honkomp and Halie Waters. That's never fun for opposing offenses.
Lincoln Memorial: The Railsplitters return plenty from their Super Regional run, and unlike their Southeast Regional foe Young Harris, Lincoln Memorial returns three pitchers that made 17 or more starts.
North Georgia: I'm not ruling out any team with Kylee Smith in the circle. She's gone 97-13 over her first three years with 911 strikeouts (that's an average of 303 per year) and hasn't had an ERA or WHIP above 0.73 since her freshman campaign.
Winona State: The Warriors lose Lani Van Zyl and her incredible numbers (.458, 1.280 OPS, 12 home runs, 50 RBIs) but have Alison Nowak (.415, 1.222 OPS, 14 home runs, 61 RBIs) and Alexis Kelsey (.369, 1.095 OPS, 13 home runs, 56 RBIs) to fill the void in a scary lineup.