There are few people who know more softball than d1softball.com’s Tara Henry. We’re about a month away from selections, so I wanted to talk to her again (see our last conversation here) and get her take on the biggest questions to be answered in the last days of the 2021 regular season.
You can watch the complete interview above. Here are some of what she’s expecting ahead of the selection show, which is set for Sunday, May 16.
1. OU or UCLA — Who gets the No. 1 seed?
I asked Henry what the biggest storyline was ahead of selections, and this was her answer. Who is going to to be No. 1 ... Oklahoma or UCLA? The answer for many might be Oklahoma right now, considering the Sooners have been No. 1 in the rankings for the past seven weeks. But they do have a much weaker strength of schedule than UCLA, Henry noted. In fact, they are ranked No. 103 in strength of schedule in the NCAA.
2. Keep an eye on Clemson
Who surprised Henry the most? Clemson. The Tigers are practically in their first season as a program, one and a half if you count last season, and they are currently No. 13 in the country and a potential host for the tournament. Valerie Cagle is a two-way player and has been phenomenal for the Tigers. She currently has a 0.94 ERA with 195 strikeouts, and offensively she is hitting .411 with 12 home runs.
3. Who will win the SEC?
Henry mentioned that the SEC has long been dominated by Florida and Alabama, but this year, we have a third party entering the group chat: Arkansas. This season could be the first time in history that the Razorbacks win an SEC title. Arkansas is currently No. 10 in the country with a 38-7 record.
4. Who’s the freshman of the year?
At first, Henry thought that it would be Oklahoma's Tiare Jennings by a landslide. Jennings is in the midst of an outstanding freshman debut for the Sooners with 22 home runs and a .492 batting average. However, this year is a little tricky because there are many other players that could be categorized as freshman this season due to last year's COVID-19 shortened season, Taylor Pleasants for LSU being one of them and Valerie Cagle is in the mix as well. But still, Henry is taking Jennings as her Freshman of the Year pick.
5. Who’s the player of the year?
This one is another tossup with so many standout players for this season. When I asked Henry this one, she paused to take a deep breath. UCLA's Rachel Garcia was hurt in the beginning of the season, but she is always in the player of the year conversations. Bailey Hemphill is having a great year for Alabama. She leads her team with a .390 average and eight home runs. And then there is Jocelyn Alo for Oklahoma, who currently leads the nation with 25 home runs and is hitting .504. Those are the three offensive players Henry thinks could win it. Then in the circle, it is Gabbie Plain for Washington who was just undefeated for the entire season until they faced the Bruins.
6. Who will be the 8 teams in Oklahoma City?
Here are Henry's eight picks for the WCWS:
8. Oklahoma State
But after Oklahoma and UCLA, she thinks it is anyone's ballgame.
7. Who are the sleepers?
For sleepers, Liberty first came to mind for Henry. The Flames just upset Oklahoma State and have Olympian and NCAA softball legend Dot Richardson there as a coach. Ole Miss is another team she said to keep an eye out for in the postseason that has the potential of upsetting someone. And finally, Missouri would have been a sleeper in the beginning of the season, but now, they have been playing so well and hitting the ball so well that they might not deserve that title, Henry said.