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D1Softball Staff | NCAA.com | January 29, 2021

Previewing the preseason top 25 college softball teams

All you need to know about the 2021 college softball season

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No. 1 UCLA

2020 record: 25-1
2019 record: 55-6 (20-4 Pac-12).
RPI: 2.
Coach (record at school): Kelly Inouye-Perez (625–173–1 in 15 seasons).
Ballpark: Easton Stadium (1,328)
Postseason history: 36 NCAA tournament appearances, 11 Super Regional appearances, 30 World Series appearances, 12 national championships.

Ace of the staff: Rachel Garcia & Megan Faraimo. We are going with dueling aces because both are equally impressive. Garcia returns for her “super senior’ season coming off a year of training with Team USA. During the 2019 campaign she went 29-1 with 1.14 ERA, 286 strikeouts and 43 walks in 202 innings pitched. Faraimo returns as a sophomore after stepping right in for Garcia in the shortened 2020 season. The 6-0 right hander looks to pick up right where she left off with a 13-1 record 0.85 ERA, 149 strikeouts and just five walks. 

Impact player: Bubba Nickles. The redshirt seniors is athletic, versatile and provides the Bruins with loads of options. Nickles led off for the 2019 Championship squad so we are interested to see where the staff puts her in the lineup. Mind you, the Bruins posted a .368 team batting average last season with every starter batting over .300. 

UCLA PREVIEW: The Bruins will be dominant with the return of Garcia and Nickles

No. 2 Oklahoma

2020 record: 20-4
2019 record: (57-5, Big-12 18-0).
RPI: 14.
Coach (record at school): Patty Gasso (1280-337-2 in 26 seasons).
Ballpark: Marita Hynes Field at the OU Softball Complex (1,378)
Postseason history: 26 NCAA Tournament appearances,13 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 13 World Series appearances, 4 national championships.

Ace of the staff: Giselle Juarez. The redshirt senior All-American was injured last season and threw only 6.2 innings. Juarez had surgery in the offseason to repair her bicep tendon and is returning to full strength. In 2019, the left-hander was 28-4 with a 1.39 ERA, 269 strikeouts and 38 walks in 186.1 IP. She went 21-0 in the regular season, including two perfect games.

Impact player: Jayda Coleman. The true freshman is expected to be an immediate starter and bat at the top of the lineup. Coleman finished her high school career in Texas batting .702 with 279 hits, 261 runs and 209 stolen bases. She has wowed the OU coaching staff with her speed and power, with Gasso calling her a “game changer” and “unbelievable athlete.”

OKLAHOMA PREVIEW: "This is one of the strongest offenses that we’ve ever had"

No. 3 Washington

2020 record: 23-2
2019 record: 52-9, 20-4 Pac-12
RPI: 4
Coach (record at school): Heather Tarr (659-246-1 in 16 seasons)
Ballpark: Husky Stadium (1,000)
Postseason history: 26 NCAA tournament appearances, 15 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 14 World Series appearances, 1 national championship.

Ace of the staff: Gabbie Plain. The Aussie hurler posted a 10-2 record with 2.76 ERA in the shortened season leading the team in strikeouts (94), innings pitched (66), complete games (6) and saves (2). The right-hander became the third Husky ever with three or more no-hitters in a single season (2019), joining Danielle Lawrie (2010) and Jennifer Spediacci (1998).

Impact player: Sis Bates. The 3-time All-American and 2-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year returns for her “super senior” season. In 2020, Bates suffered a concussion at the St. Pete’s Clearwater Invitational causing her to miss ten games. It is safe to say, the sure-handed shortstop will give us more web gems to ooh and awe over in 2021.

Washington Athletics Sis Bates of Washington softball Sis Bates, center, celebrates with Washington softball teammates after shutting out Alabama on March 2, 2018.

No. 4 Arizona

2020 record: 21-3
2019 record: 48-14 (19-5 Pac-12).
RPI: 6.
Coach (record at school): Mike Candrea (1,532-421-2 in 35 seasons).
Ballpark: Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium (2,956)
Postseason history: 33 NCAA tournament appearances, 14 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 23 World Series appearances, 8 national championships.

Ace on staff: Mariah Lopez. The redshirt senior was 11-2 with a 1.38 ERA, 93 strikeouts and 22 walks in 71.0 IP in her Arizona debut after transferring from Oklahoma. Her 11 wins were the second most in the Pac-12 and sixth most in the country. 

Impact player: Dejah Mulipola. The redshirt senior All-American is returning to college instead of practicing with Olympic team before the postponed Tokyo Games this summer. Mulipola was the Johnny Bench Catcher of the Year in 2019, batting .311 with seven doubles, 23 home runs and 55 RBIs. Her leadership and national team experience will be a major bonus for the Wildcats.

TOP 25 RANKINGS: UCLA takes top spot in preseason USA Today coaches college softball poll

No. 5 LSU

2020 record: 20-3
2019 record: 43-19, 14-10 SEC
RPI: 19.
Coach (record at school): Beth Torina (380-158 in 9 seasons).
Ballpark: Tiger Park (2,671).
Postseason history: 21 NCAA tournament appearances, 8 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 6 World Series appearances.

Ace of the staff: Shelby Wickersham. The Tigers have a wealth of options in the circle to choose from for this category. The LSU staff had a nation-leading 0.95 ERA in 148.0 IP, limiting opponents to a .156 batting average. Wickersham, a sophomore right hander, was 5-1 with a 0.40 ERA, 31 strikeouts and 10 walks in 35.1 IP in 2020.

Impact player: Taylor Pleasants. The freshman started all 24 games at shortstop during the shortened 2020 season. She made an emphatic statement by recording her first career home run in walk-off fashion against Oklahoma State. Pleasants finished the season batting .383 with 23 hits, 21 RBIs and 23 runs scored.

No. 6 Florida

2020 record: 21-4
2019 record: 49-18, 12-12 SEC.
RPI: 5
Coach (record at school): Tim Walton (792-171 in 15 seasons).
Ballpark: Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium (1,383)
Postseason history: 20 NCAA tournament appearances, 11 Super Regional appearances, 10 World Series appearances, two national titles.

Ace of the staff: Natalie Lugo. The senior right-hander was 7-2 with a 1.64 ERA, 102 strikeouts and 26 walks in 81.1 IP in 2020. Lugo, Elizabeth Hightower and Rylee Trlicek will be the main arms in the rotation for the Gators. Any of them could rise to the occasion.

Impact player: Charla Echols. The junior third baseman was a huge addition to the lineup last season after transferring from Michigan State. Echols thrived at the plate and in the field. She batted .417 with eight home runs, five doubles and 28 RBIs and was solid on defense.

No. 7 Louisiana 

2020 record: 16-6
2019 record: 52-6, 26-0 Sun Belt.
RPI: 1.
Coach (record at school): Gerry Glasco (109-28 in three seasons).
Ballpark: Lamson Park (2,790)
Postseason history: 29 NCAA tournament appearances, 7 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 6 World Series appearances.

Ace of the staff: Summer (Ellyson) Summers. The senior right-hander returned to lead the staff yet again. Summers was 11-1 with a 1.83 ERA, 80 strikeouts and 13 walks in 76.1 IP during the 2020 season. She had a lighter fall workload, and should be fresh for 2021.

Impact player: Ciara Bryan. The Georgia transfer was an unexpected and celebration addition to the lineup. Bryan, a senior outfielder, hit .384 with 11 home runs, 31 RBIs and 39 runs scored at Georgia last season. 

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No. 8 Alabama

2020 record: 14-8
2019 record: 60-10, 18-6 SEC
RPI: 13
Coach (record at school): Patrick Murphy (1,097-311 in 22 seasons)
Ballpark: Rhoads Stadium (3,940)
Postseason history: 21 NCAA tournament appearances, 15 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 12 World Series appearances, 1 national championship.

Ace of the staff: Montana Fouts. The sophomore was rounding into form in 2020 when the season was cut short. Fouts should be more refreshed this season after going 3-3 with a 2.04 ERA, 41 strikeouts and 22 walks in 37.2 IP in 2020.

Impact player: KB Sides. The junior outfielder was in the midst of a breakout season in 2020, hitting .483 with 22 RBIs and 20 runs scored before the remaining games were canceled. A triple threat, Sides has added more power for 2021.

No. 9 Texas

2020 record: 24-3
2019 record: 46-17, 12-6 Big 12
RPI: 3
Coach (record at school): Mike White (70-20 in two seasons)
Ballpark: Red & Charlene McCombs Field (1,254)
Postseason history: 19 NCAA tournament appearances, 4 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 5 World Series appearances.

Ace of the staff: Shealyn O’Leary. The six-foot right hander is more than capable of filling the shoes of the departed Miranda Elish. O’Leary went 6-0 with a 1.97 ERA, 33 strikeouts and nine walks in 49.2 IP in 2020 beating No. 10 Louisiana and No. 13 Michigan.

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Impact player: Janae Jefferson. Mike White believes she is the most underrated player in the nation and we couldn’t agree more. The junior infielder batted .554 with six doubles, two triples and 30 runs scored while stealing 10 bases in 10 attempts.

No. 10 Oklahoma State

2020 record: 18-5
2019 record: 45-17, 13-5 Big 12
RPI: 8.
Coach (record at school): Kenny Gajewski (154-90 in four seasons).
Ballpark: Cowgirl Stadium (750).
Postseason history:  22 NCAA tournament appearances, 2 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 8 World Series appearances (4 AIAW appearances).

Ace of the staff: Carrie Eberle. The 6-0 right hander went 10-1 with a .46 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 76 innings pitched. Eberle is tough as nails on the mound and reported back to fall at full strength. The former ACC Pitcher of the Year is a seasoned veteran who will lead a staff of seven pitchers.

Impact player: Alysen Febrey. The Georgia transfer started every game in her first season as a Cowgirl, all at first base. Febrey did not disappoint putting up big numbers at the plate leading the team in average (.382), OPS (1.417), home runs (11), RBIs (32) and doubles (5).

No. 11 Florida State

2020 record: 17-7
2019 record: 55-10, 19-5 ACC
RPI: 6.
Coach (record at school): Lonni Alameda (555-167-1 in 12 seasons).
Ballpark: JoAnne Graf Field (1,000)
Postseason history: 32 NCAA tournament appearances, 8 Super Regional appearances, 10 World Series appearances, 1 national title.

Ace of the staff: Caylan Arnold. The redshirt senior had a promising debut after transferring from Tennessee. Arnold finished the 2020 season 5-3 with a 1.40 ERA, 60 strikeouts and 10 walks in 60 IP. She put in extra time in the offseason to improve even more. 

Impact player: Sydney Sherrill. The junior started all 24 games at third base for the Seminoles in 2020, and finished second on the team with a .344 batting average while hitting four doubles, four home runs and driving in 16.

No. 12 Oregon

2020 record: 21-2
2019 record: 22-30, 5-19 Pac-12
RPI: 10
Coach (record at school): Melyssa Lombardi (43-32 in two seasons)
Ballpark: Jane Sanders Stadium (2,500)
Postseason history: 20 NCAA Regional appearances, 9 NCAA Super Regional, appearances, 6 World Series appearances.

Ace of the staff: Brooke Yanez. The former Big West Pitcher of the year put up insane numbers for the Ducks going 9-1 with a 1.56 ERA, 94 strikeouts and 20 walks. The left hander shouldered the highest innings for Oregon (62.2), keeping opposing hitters to just a .172 average.

Impact player: Rachel Cid. The sophomore infielder led the team and finished fifth in the Pac-12 in homers. The California native led the offense with 27 RBIs and was perfect and did not commit an error at the hot corner in 45 chances.

OREGON PREVIEW: The Ducks' depth at each position sets Oregon near the top of the Pac-12

No. 13 Georgia

2020 record: 23-5
2019 record: 42-19, 12-12 SEC
RPI: 33.
Coach (record at school): Lu Harris-Champer (925-345 in 20 seasons).
Ballpark: Jack Turner Stadium (1,400).
Postseason history: 18 NCAA tournament appearances, 10 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 4 World Series appearances.

Ace of the staff: Mary Wilson Avant. The senior right-hander brings a wealth of experience to the Dawgs staff. Avant finished 11-4 with a 1.39 ERA, 120 strikeouts and 35 walks in 75.1 IP in 2020. 

Impact player: Sara Mosley. The sophomore third baseman provides power for Georgia. As a true freshman last season, she started all 28 games and batted .397 with nine doubles, five home runs and 31 RBIs.

No. 14 Virginia Tech

2020 record: 21-4
2019 record: 46-17, 12-6 ACC
RPI: 9
Coach (record at school): Pete D’Amour (68-15 in two seasons)
Ballpark: Tech Softball Park (1,024)
Postseason history: 9 NCAA tournament appearances, 1 NCAA Super Regional appearance, 1 World Series appearance.

Ace of the staff: Keely Rochard. The 5-8 right-hander threw two no-hitters in the shortened 2020 season leading the NCAA in strikeouts (183), wins (15) and shutouts (7). The three-time ACC Pitcher of the Week keeps the Hokies in every game she’s on the mound.

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Impact player: Cameron Fagan. The younger sister of Kasey, Sami, and Haley Fagan impressed D’Amour this Fall and looks to start up the middle for the Hokies. The true freshman led the state of Florida (6A_ in batting average, runs scored and placed second in steals.

No. 15 Mississippi State

2020 record: 25-3
2019 record: 35-23, 9-15 SEC
RPI: 20.
Coach (record at school): Samantha Ricketts (25-3 in one season)
Ballpark: Nusz Park (1,100).
Postseason history: 15 NCAA tournament appearances.

Ace of the staff: Emily Williams. The senior right-hander is returning for another year to bolster an extremely deep pitching staff. Williams finished the shortened 2020 season 5-0 with a 0.46 ERA, 75 strikeouts and 21 walks in 45.2 IP. 

Impact player: Fa Leilua. The senior power hitter is an imposing presence in the lineup. Leilua batted .384 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs in 2020. The veteran is entering her sixth season in college, and turns 24 this spring.

MSU PREVIEW: This ritual plays an important role in the Bulldogs' preseason development

No. 16 Arkansas

2020 record: 19-6
2019 record: 38-20, 12-12 SEC.
RPI: 24
Coach (record at school): Courtney Deifel (147-106 in five seasons).
Ballpark: Bogle Park (1,200).
Postseason history: 8 NCAA Regional appearances, 1 NCAA Super Regional appearance.

Ace of the staff: Autumn Storms. The senior right-hander was 11-3 with a 1.16 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 12 walks in 72.2 IP in 2020. The second-team All-American didn’t give up more than three runs in an appearance all season.

Impact player: Hannah McEwen. The junior outfielder lead the team in batting with a .418 average with six doubles, 27 runs scored and 12 RBIs in 2020. 

No. 17 Arizona State

2020 record: 22-7
2019 record: 35-20, 13-11 Pac-12.
RPI: 28
Coach (record at school): Trisha Ford (135-57 in three seasons).
Ballpark: Farrington Stadium (1,535).
Postseason history: 30 NCAA appearances, 8 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 12 World Series appearances, four national championships.

Ace of the staff: Cielo Meza, Pitched 74.1 innings for the Sun Devils going 10-2 with a 1.98 ERA, 91 strikeouts and 15 walks. The right-hander hurler threw her first no-hitter against Seattle University opening weekend (Feb. 9) recording the first no-hitter thrown by a Sun Devil since 2018.

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Impact player: Kindra Hackbarth. The senior slugger returns for her fifth year after a stellar 2020 campaign, The lefty power hitter batted .443, with 11 doubles, one triple, six home runs and 27 RBIs.

No. 18 Michigan

2020 record: 15-8
2019 record: 44-13, 22-1 Big Ten
RPI: 18
Coach (record at school): Carol Hutchins (1,631-525-5  in 37 seasons).
Ballpark: Alumni Field (2,650).
Postseason history: 27 NCAA Regional appearances, 12 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 12 World Series appearance, one national championship.

Ace of the staff: Meghan Beaubien. The senior left-hander was rounding in top form by the end of the 2020 shortened season. Beaubien, the 2018 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year, was 7-5 with a 1.52 ERA, 90 strikeouts and 20 walks in 43.2 IP.

Impact player: Lexie Blair. The junior outfielder had a strong fall for the Wolverines. She batted a team-leading .307 in 2020 with nine doubles and 11 runs scored. Michigan will need an offensive spark to help ignite more support for the pitching staff and Blair can help.

No. 19 Baylor

2020 record: 19-5
2019 record: 18-31, 2-16 (Big 12)
RPI: 35
Coach (record at school): Glenn Moore (775-377 in 21 seasons)
Ballpark: Getterman Stadium
Postseason history: 13 NCAA tournament appearances, 6 NCAA Super Regional appearance, 4 World Series appearance.

Ace of the staff: Gia Rodoni. The right-handed hurler went 8-3 in the shortened 2020 season with a team leading 1.15 ERA with 97 strikeouts and 13 walks in 73.1 innings pitched.

Impact player: Maddison Kettler. The only Bear to hit over .400 in the shortened 2020 season with 27 hits, three doubles, one triple and 7 RBIs.

No. 20 Minnesota

2020 record: 15-9-1
2019 record: 46-14, 20-2 Big Ten
RPI: 22
Coach (record at school): Piper Ritter (first season as head coach)
Ballpark: Jane Sage Cowles Stadium
Postseason history: 14 NCAA tournament appearances, 2 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 1 World Series appearance.

Ace of the staff: Amber Fiser. The right-handed hurler led the Big Ten and was third in the NCAA in strikeouts (145) in the shortened 2020 season. Look to the fifth-year senior to lead the Gophers and have a season similar to her junior year, when she was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year,

Impact player: Natalie DenHartog. During her second-year as a Gopher she recorded a team leading .439 batting average starting all 25 games in the shortened 2020 season. She also led the team in hits (33), home runs (7), on-base percentage (.537) and RBIs (28),

DINGERS: College softball's all-time home run leaders

No. 21 Tennessee

2020 Record: 14-9
2019 Record: 43-17, 14-10 SEC
RPI: 21.
Coach (Record at school): Karen and Ralph Weekly (907-285-1 in 20 seasons).
Ballpark: Sherri Parker Lee Stadium (2,200)
Postseason History: 17 NCAA tournament appearances, 11 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 7 World Series appearances.

Ace of the Staff: Ashley Rogers. A lot of Tennessee’s potential success hinges on Rogers being back to full strength. The junior right-hander missed every game in the shortened 2020 season with an injury. As a freshman in 2019, Rogers went 21-7 with a team-leading 1.94 ERA, 209 strikeouts and 42 walks in 173.1 IP.

Impact Player: Ally Shipman. The junior catcher leads the Lady Vols with her bat and defensive prowess behind the plate. Having recovered from an injury in 2019, Shipman started all 23 games in 2020. She batted .403 with seven doubles, two triples, two home runs and 16 RBIs.

No. 22 UCF

2020 record: 21-5-1
2019 record: 34-21
RPI: 7.
Coach (record at school): Cindy Ball-Malone (55-26-1 in two seasons)
Ballpark: UCF Softball Complex (600)
Postseason history: 7 NCAA appearances

Ace of the staff: Alea White. The redshirt senior right-hander has been the face of the Knights program the last few seasons. White was 11-2 with a 1.85 ERA, 91 strikeouts and 31 walks in 79.1 IP in 2020.  

Impact player: Shannon Doherty. The sophomore infielder sets the tone for UCF with her work ethic and production. Doherty batted a team-leading .443 with 15 RBIs last season.

No. 23 Missouri

2020 record: 19-7
2019 record: 35-25, 12-13 SEC.
RPI: 28.
Coach (record at school): Larissa Anderson (54-32 in two seasons).
Ballpark: Mizzou Softball Stadium (2,600+).
Postseason history: 23 NCAA Regional appearances, 8 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 6 World Series appearances.

Ace of the staff: Jordan Weber. The redshirt freshman right-hander is part of a young and deep staff for the Tigers. Weber finished 5-1 with a 2.15 ERA, 38 strikeouts and 21 walks in 42.1 IP.

Impact player: Cayla Kessinger. The redshirt junior outfielder returned from thoracic outlet syndrome to have a strong 2020 season. Kessinger batted .429 with four doubles, six home runs and 32 RBIs while drawing a team-high 17 walks.

No. 24 Kentucky

2020 record: 20-4
2019 record: 36-24, 14-10 SEC
RPI: 27.
Coach (record at school): Rachel Lawson (452-279 in 13 seasons).
Ballpark: John Cropp Stadium (2,117).
Postseason history:  10 NCAA Regional appearances, 7 NCAA Super Regional appearances, 1 World Series appearance.

Ace of the staff: Grace Baalman. The senior right-hander faced nearly all the tough opponents on Kentucky’s schedule in the shortened 2020 season, which inflated some of her numbers compared to past seasons. She finished 3-2 with a 4.55 ERA, 31 strikeouts and 23 walks in 29.2 IP. 

Impact player: Kayla Kowalik. Even in a shortened season, the junior catcher broke the program’s single-season triples record with eight in 2020. Kowalik batted .373 with 31 runs scored and 13 RBIs in 83 at-bats.

No. 25 South Carolina

2020 record: 17-6
2019 record: 38-19, 9-14 SEC
RPI: 15.
Coach (record at school): Beverly Smith (333-221 in ten seasons)
Ballpark: Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field (1,277)
Postseason history: 22 NCAA Regional appearances, 2 Super Regional appearances, 3 World Series appearances.

Ace of the staff: Kelsey Oh. The senior right-hander had the 2020 season cut short with a foot injury. Oh finished 4-2 with a 2.14 ERA, 51 strikeouts and 16 walks in 32.2 IP.

Impact player: Kenzi Maguire. The graduate senior will be in her sixth season of college softball. Maguire started all 23 games at shortstop in 2020 for the Gamecocks, batting .328 with five doubles, nine RBIs, 14 walks, nine hit by pitches and 22 runs scored. 

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