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Brenden Welper | NCAA.com | June 22, 2021

2022 DII softball rankings: Way-too-early preseason Power 10

2021 DII softball: West Texas A&M vs. Biola full replay

The most unusual DII softball season in history is just that — history. It started with with teams playing in empty stadiums, and ended with a winner-take-all championship game in front of a packed crowd in Denver. 

Now that the offseason is here, it's time to start looking ahead to 2022. And what better way to do that than with a fresh Power 10? As a reminder, these are my rankings, and mine alone.

Here is the 2022 preseason Power 10 for DII softball.

1. West Texas A&M (43-12)

This is a no-brainer. The Buffaloes' 2021 national championship guaranteed them the top spot on this list. Plus, their most dominant pitcher and hitter are returning for 2022. Kyra Lair went 24-6 last season with a 2.65 ERA. She also had 185 strikeouts. Ruby Salzman led West Texas A&M with a .433 batting average and 60 RBI. Her 12 home runs ranked second on the team.

2. Biola (26-16)

The Eagles' magical run came up short in the championship series. But with only two seniors on last season's team (Haley Martinez and Kayla Neff), they won't suffer a major drop-off in talent in 2022. Biola's entire pitching rotation will return next season. That includes Paige Austin, who had a superb year. Prior to the final game against West Texas A&M, she threw 26.1 scoreless innings in the DII softball championship.

3. Valdosta State (38-11)

It's never easy losing the game's best home-run hitter. But that's the reality for the Blazers, as Nicole Pennington graduated this spring. She led the country in home runs with 24, and led Valdosta State with a .406 batting average and 60 RBI. Still, the Blazers are returning most of their 2021 roster. Valdosta State's 7.14 runs per game ranked eighth last season.

BACK ON TOP: West Texas A&M wins the 2021 DII softball championship 

4. Grand Valley State (45-10)

The Lakers didn't have a single senior on their active roster in 2021. Barring any offseason changes, their team will remain intact come 2022. Grand Valley State's team ERA of 1.91 ranked 16th in the country this season. Its batting average of .326 ranked 25th. Starting pitcher Hannah Beatus had a phenomenal season. The redshirt sophomore went 25-4 with a 1.33 ERA.

5. Oklahoma Christian (38-9)

Yes, the Eagles suffered an early exit in the NCAA tournament. But they had a 16-game winning streak earlier this year and went 12-3 against ranked opponents during the regular season. Oklahoma Christian lost one of its best hitters in Brianna Robison to graduation. She batted a team-high .366 and added 35 RBI in 2021. Fortunately, starting pitcher Kali Crandall was only a junior last season. She posted a 24-3 record with a 1.91 ERA.

6. North Georgia (43-8)

The Nighthawks will retain their top hitter in Margaret Simmons, who led the team in batting average (.383), RBI (53) and home runs (19) in 2021. But losing Shelby Hammontree to graduation will have an impact, as she hit 14 home runs and finished with 49 RBI. Starting pitcher Kylee Smith also graduated. She went 18-5 on the mound with a 1.53 ERA. Her 146.1 innings pitched were the most for any thrower on North Georgia.

7. Rollins (21-4)

While the Tars only played 25 games in 2021, they made the most of them. Rollins ranked third in team ERA at 1.04. But here's the kicker: Rollins only used two pitchers all year. Ali Shenefield went 11-1 with a 1.04 ERA, while Ashley Worrell finished 10-3 with an identical 1.04 ERA. Shenefield and Worrell threw 76 and 75 strikeouts, respectively. Both players will be back in 2022. 

THE DII REPORT: Bearcats, Bulldogs and Buffs — A look back at the DII year that was

8. Auburn Montgomery (40-7)

It's true that the Warhawks just lost three of their five pitchers to graduation, including their ace Bailie Barnes (16-4, 1.82 ERA). But the two that remain, Alanna Goble and Brinkley Yevak, have proven themselves. Goble led the team with 84 strikeouts and finished with a 12-1 record. Yevak went 5-0 and posted a team-best 1.72 ERA. Auburn Montgomery's best power hitter will also return. Molly Cobb led the team in batting average (.426) and RBI (45). She also had 10 homers. 

9. Colorado Mesa (39-5)

A pair of redshirt sophomores led the charge for the Mavericks in 2021. Lauren Wedman batted a team-high .514 and drove in 67 runs. Ellie Smith batted .444, and led Colorado Mesa in RBI (80), home runs (19) and doubles (22). Smith is also one of the Mavericks' three pitchers (all will return in 2022). She went 13-1 with a 2.19 ERA. The future is bright in Grand Junction, Colorado.

10. Augustana (SD) (49-8)

For much of the season, Augustana (SD) sat atop these rankings. And it was one of the last four teams remaining in the DII softball championship. But the Vikings lost three key players to graduation this spring. Kendall Cornick led the team in batting average (.453) and hits (78). Starting pitchers Ashley Mickschl (27-5, 1.83 ERA) and Amber Elliott (21-2, 2.28 ERA) were the top end of the rotation. But this program is too consistent to leave off this list. 

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