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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | February 10, 2022

2022 college softball preview and predictions with D1Softball's Tara Henry

2022 college softball season preview with D1Softball's Tara Henry

Just under a month remaining until opening weekend of the 2022 college softball season. D1softball.com's Tara Henry sat down with us to break down the upcoming season and preview all that is in store. Henry broke down the top five teams in d1softball's preseason top 25 rankings, headlines and storylines for this season, player of the year candidates, under-the-radar teams and squads she thinks might make a run for it this season. 

Oklahoma (the reigning champs) comes in at No. 1 preseason, and just might have gotten better

So, you might be thinking — there is no way this team could have possibly gotten better. They already are returning one of the most stacked lineups and offenses, ever, in the sport of softball. The Sooners return the 2021 NFCA National Player of the Year, Jocelyn Alo. They return the Freshman of the Year, Tiare Jennings. Not to mention Kinzie Hansen, Jayda Coleman, Mackenzie Donihoo and more. This is the offense that hit the most home runs in the NCAA last season and won a national championship while doing it. So it makes sense that they come in as the No. 1 team ahead of the season, but how did they get even better? Especially since they lost Giselle Juarez and Shannon Saile, their two aces from last season. 

Enter Jordyn Bahl. The freshman right handing pitcher was the 2020-21 Gatorade Player of the Year in high school. Henry said that Patty Gasso, Oklahoma's head coach, felt the offense was frustrated with her pitching in the fall. 

TOP PITCHERS: 15 of the most talented arms to watch in 2022

"It's tough to repeat. But having an arm like Jordyn Bahl is giving all those hitters, the most prolific offense of all time (trouble)," Henry said. "I am excited to see how she does, the rookie, in the circle. They also have a transfer from North Texas, Hope Trautwein, and they have Nicole May who of course did an incredible job last season for the Sooners."

The rest of the top five, and why

After the Oklahoma Sooners — Alabama, Oklahoma State, UCLA and Florida round out the rest of D1softball's top five teams. The Tide return the NFCA Pitcher of the Year in Montana Fouts, and as Henry mentioned, anyone would love to have a Fouts on their team. She went 27-4 with a 1.61 ERA, 349 strikeouts, 49 walks in 213.1 innings pitched. The junior right-hander threw a perfect game against UCLA (June 4) at the WCWS, the first since 2000. Henry also noted that Bailey Dowling would be back. She suffered an ACL injury last season, and her return will likely give this team a boost, as well as infielder Kaylee Tow, a 2021 All-American. 

Oklahoma State comes in at No. 3 after picking up Miranda Elish, who formally played at Texas and opted out of the 2021 season, Julia Cottrill (Florida) and Morgan Day (Illinois State).

"I think we've named it transfer-U," Henry said. "Excited to see what they do in that three-spot." Elish is a renowned two-way player and will join Kelly Maxwell, the likely ace of the staff. The lefty went 15-5 with a 1.81 ERA and 8.9 strikeouts per seven innings last season. 

At No. 4, Megan Faraimo will be back at UCLA after missing the WCWS due to a hand injury. Henry said she thinks she is in the best shape she has ever been in at UCLA. The 6-0 ace from last season was recently named as an alternate on the U.S. Women’s National Team. Briana Perez, Maya Brady, Aaliyah Jordan and more also return for the Bruins.

Florida moved up to No. 5, with incredible leadership returning for this season and their whole pitching staff coming back — Elizabeth Hightower, Natalie Lugo, Hannah Adams, Charla Echols and more returning. Echols led the Gators last season at the dish, batting .375 with 15 home runs, 11 doubles and 55 RBIs. 

See below for DIsoftball's full preseason top-25 rankings: 

RANK TEAM 2021 RECORD 2021 RANK
1 Oklahoma 56-4 1
2 Alabama 52-9 3
3 Oklahoma State 48-12 5
4 UCLA 47-7 6
5 Florida 45-11 10
6 Florida State 49-13-1 2
7 Washington 45-14 9
8 Arkansas 43-11 11
9 Texas 43-14 16
10 Missouri 42-17 13
11 Virginia Tech 37-15 12
12 Michigan 38-8 20
13 Duke 44-12 18
14 Clemson 44-8 19
15 Arizona 41-15 7
16 Oregon 40-17 17
17 LSU 35-22 14
18 Tennessee 42-15 22
19 Georgia 34-23 8
20 Kentucky 43-16 15
21 Arizona State 33-16 21
22 Louisiana 47-12 NR
23 Northwestern 30-17 NR
24 Liberty 44-15 25
25 James Madison 41-4 4

Tara's biggest storylines heading into the season

  • Not if, but when Jocelyn Alo breaks the NCAA home run record set by Oklahoma's Lauren Chamberlain. Alo is just seven home runs away from the record after hitting an NCAA-best 34 home runs last season. 
  • The transfers coming in at Oklahoma State and seeing what kind of numbers Elish puts up after two seasons off. 
  • The rise of the ACC. Henry said she is on the ACC train and so excited to see how Clemson, Duke, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech battle it out in the ACC.
  • The Big Ten. They played conference-only games last season and now are back to normal. 
  • Kayla Konwent, the 2019 Big Ten Player of the Year, is back at Wisconsin.

WATCH: Oklahoma's 2021 WCWS title, as seen from field level

Just a few player of the year candidates

  • Jocelyn Alo
  • Charla Echols
  • Kayla Kowalik
  • Valerie Cagle
  • Keely Rochard
  • Gabbie Plain

A team that could make a run for it

I asked Tara which team she could see making a run for it this season, and right away, her answer was Michigan. 

"I think the Wolverines are packed and ready to go," Henry said. "Between Meghan Beaubien and Alex Storako, they've got an incredible pitching staff.

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