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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | February 18, 2021

2021 WCWS: Way-early predictions for 8 teams we might see in Oklahoma City

2021 WCWS: Way-early predictions for 8 teams we might see in Oklahoma City

College softball is back, so we are going to try this thing again. Let’s take a look at eight teams with the best chance of making it to the 2021 Women’s College World Series.

This year, it is even more difficult to pick (On top of an already impossible task). There are so many super seniors returning due to an extra year of eligibility — and therefore stacked teams. Basically everyone’s got a shot. But here are my eight way-too-early picks for OKC.

Let's get started.

AN EARLY LOOK AT 2021: D1Softball top 25 | Oklahoma shatters home run record

Eight teams we could see in Oklahoma for the 2020 WCWS

The case for UCLA: I would say the case for the Bruins is pretty obvious. Last season, they were No. 1 in the country and went 25-1 WITHOUT Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles. It didn't even matter. Megan Faraimo stepped in as the ace of the staff and posted a 0.85 ERA and 149 strikeouts, now Garcia will be back to join her. Garcia and Nickles are playing this season for UCLA as they prep for the delayed Olympics. In 2019, Garcia went 29-1 with a 1.14 ERA. Nickles led the Bruins in 2019 with 18 home runs, 72 runs batted in and a .714 slugging percentage. This roster is absolutely loaded, and this team 1,000 percent has a shot of making it back to the Women’s College World Series — maybe even take the title as repeat champs (With just one 2020 pandemic year off).

The case for Washington: The Huskies return Gabbie Plain and Sis Bates. Plain is the ace of the staff and Bates is a three-time All-American and two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. We missed out on a lot of Bates highlights last season when she missed 10 games due to injury, so everyone should be happy to have this shortstop back in action this year. Aside from Bates, the Huskies have a really experienced offense. Morganne Flores returns after as well as a seasoned vet behind the plate. She also boasts a .330 career average and is fifth all-time in Husky history in home runs. The Huskies left off last season 23-2 and should be VERY much so in the mix this season and on the hunt for the WCWS. 

The case for Arizona: The Wildcats absolutely have a shot of making it to the Women's College World Series. In fact, they've got a great shot. Currently the No. 4 team in D1softball’s rankings, the Wildcats return Mariah Lopez as a redshirt senior in the circle. She had 11 wins last season. Dejah Mulipola is another Olympic player that is returning this season before the postponed Tokyo Games. This is another case of…they were good without her and now they’re going to be even better with her back in the lineup. All of Arizona's seniors decided to return to for their extra year of eligibility. Jessie Harper also returns, so the home run tracker continues for the shortstop, and she is joined by Reyna Carranco, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoz. This team was good last season and now are ready to do it again with even more weapons. 

The case for Oklahoma: The Sooners couldn’t NOT be on the list. G Juarez is back this season and returning at full-strength and health this time around. She has already been exceptional so far a few games in. Offensively, they’re loaded. All-American slugger Jocelyn Alo is back, Nicole Mendes is a year off of an ACL surgery, and then there is Kenzie Hansen and Grace Lyons. On top of that, add on some pure freshman talent that are already making an impact, surely future franchise names: Jayda Coleman and Tiare Jennings. Jennings has been successful at the plate so far to start this 2021 season. This team has been successful and years past and now they’re looking better than ever. 

The case for Alabama: The Crimson Tide have a strong pitching staff, something that will matter a ton in a year full of stacked rosters. Montana Fouts is the ace of the staff and then will have some help from Sarah Cornell, Krystal Goodman, and Lexi Kilfoyl. KB Sides led the Tide in 2020, batting .483 with 22 RBI and 20 runs scored, and she is doing great already. Bailey Hemphill also returns to add some power behind the plate. 

The case for Texas: I know the Longhorns will be playing without Miranda Elish, but I am still picking them to make it. We haven’t seen them play yet, so it is really hard to judge. But this is a way-too-early look, right? Without Elish, they still have depth in the circle with Shealyn O’Leary, Courtney Day, and then added on two strong freshmen arms. Janae Jefferson is back offensively. Last season she batted .554 with 30 runs scored and stole 10 bases. And senior Kaitlyn Washington, a left-handed hitter, batted .457 with five doubles and 11 RBI last season.

The case for Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State is the current No. 10 in the country in D1softball rankings. But they’ve got Carrie Eberle as their ace, who went 10-1 with a .46 ERA in 76 innings pitched last season. Alysen Febrey returns at first after leading the team offensively last year. She’s been great in the little bit we saw this year as well. They are strong up the middle, and have an influx of new talent as well, including Georgia transfer Jordan Doggett.

The case for LSU: The last one is nearly impossible to pick. I was torn between Florida and LSU. The Gators have Charla Echols, and Natalie Lugo and they are clearly a very strong team. And I know LSU already lost a game, but I am tempted to go with strong pitching staffs, and LSU returns everyone from a staff that had a nation-leading ERA of 0.95 in 148.0 innings pitched last season. Offensively, senior Aliyah Andrews is back. She hit .408 last season. Sophomore shortstop Taylor Pleasants returns after a strong 2020 season. I had some conversations with D1 softball’s Tara Henry, who mentioned this is one of the most athletic teams in the country. 

First out: 

My first out are Florida, Oregon and Louisiana. Those three could have absolutely been on this list and it’s very likely they could be in OKC this year. Some sleepers for you, too: Missouri and Virginia Tech.

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