We're ready for the 2022 college softball season. As usual, we had some fun with WAY too early predictions. I made picks for the eight teams that could reach to the 2022 Women's College World Series before the season even started, and with very little to go off of.
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Here are the eight teams I picked — and why:
My first pick is the Alabama Crimson Tide. There are many obvious reasons, but let's start off with the most obvious one: Montana Fouts. AKA the 2021 NFCA Pitcher of the Year in the photo above. Fouts lead the NCAA in strikeouts last season and tossed a perfect game at the WCWS for the first time since 2000. She can absolutely lead this team back to OKC. On top of Fouts, Bama has added some offensive impact players for 2022 with the return of Bailey Dowling, who missed the 2021 season due to injury and three transfers and six freshman. It will be difficult to replace the production of Bailey Hemphill, but the Tide does return Kaylee Tow, who drove in the second-most runs last season behind Hemphill. The graduate senior batted .362 with eight home runs, 14 doubles, 41 runs scored and 51 RBI.
This one doesn't need much explanation ... but, I will give it you anyway. The reigning national champions return the NFCA Player of the Year and home run leader Jocelyn Alo. Alo is just seven home runs away from breaking the all-time NCAA home run record and hit over 30 last season ... if that says anything. They return NFCA Freshman of the Year Tiare Jennings, who was second in the NCAA with 27 homers last season, led the nation in doubles, and hit .462. AND, they return almost their entire lineup that proved to be one of the most lethal offenses in the history of softball last season. As if that could get any better, they now have an incredible pitching staff that will be led by freshman right hander Jordyn Bahl. I’d be more shocked if Oklahoma DIDN'T make it back next season.
WATCH: Oklahoma's 2021 WCWS title, as seen from field level
Oklahoma State was another easy pick for me. They wont have Carrie Eberle, who led the Cowgirls to the WCWS, but they return Kelly Maxwell as their lefty ace. And on top of that, Miranda Elish transferred to the program from Texas after a year off. She is a renowned two-way player and All-American. This team has created the ultimate prototype for maximizing on transfers and building a championship caliber team out of it. They also picked up Julia Cottrill from Florida and Morgan Day from Illinois State. Hayley Busby and Kiley Naomi also return. Busby finished the 2021 as a third-team All-American after setting a single-season OSU record with a .794 slugging percentage and notching 19 home runs. Naomi had 59 runs scored in 2021 and is reliable and consistent at the plate.
UCLA is my next pick ... and yes, this is a team I think can make it to the WCWS even without Rachel Garcia. The Bruins return probably the most experienced roster of anyone. In the circle, Megan Faraimo will be back to lead the charge. The 6-0 ace from last season missed the WCWS due to an injury, but according to D1softball’s Tara Henry, she is likely in the best shape of her career. And then on top of that you've got an experienced lineup with Maya Brady, Briana Perez, Aaliyah Jordan and Kinsley Washington back. Just remarkably mature and one of the most prolific softball programs.
I've got Michigan next. And this is mostly because of Alex Storako and Meghan Beaubien. I think this is a pitching duo that can make it all the way to OKC. Michigan led the nation with a 1.23 ERA a season ago with those two arms who accounted for 44 of 46 team starts. Storako was the unanimous Big Ten Pitcher of the Year in 2021. She led the nation with a 12.9 strikeout-per-seven-innings average, ranked fourth nationally with hits allowed per seven innings, was top 10 in strikeouts, and posted a 1.05 ERA. Plus, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Lexi Blair who hit .406 just a season ago is back. Michigan has got the makings of a team that can go the distance.
Florida is my next pick. I think the Gators have a solid rotation with Elizabeth Hightower, Natalie Lugo and more, plus a top notch lineup. Hannah Adams, Charla Echols and Skylar Wallace are three huge names to note for the 2022 season. Echols batted a team-leading .375 with 15 home runs and 11 doubles last season. Hightower, Echols and Adams were NFCA All-Americans last season, and Wallace will get to play her first season with the Gators after transferring from Alabama in 2021 and sitting out for the season. In the COVID-shortened 2020 season at Alabama, Wallace batted .387 with 27 runs scored and 18 RBI. Plus, this team looks pretty good defensively.
The last two teams were TOUGH to choose. You don’t want to go too chalk with it but I want to pick teams I really think are championship contenders. I decided to go with a Missouri team that returns every starter from last year, including seven fifth-year seniors. That creates experience, and drive. They have the same four arms in the circle — Megan Schumacher, Jordan Weber, Emma Nichols and Laurin Krings. They also return an offense that finished first or second in pretty much every category in the SEC last season. Jenna Laird batted .369 with eight home runs, 13 doubles, 46 runs scored and 38 RBI to earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors.
For the last team, I was absolutely torn between Washington and Florida State. Do you go the 2021 runner-up to be safe? Or take a bold pick with the Huskies ... I am going bold with Washington — mostly because of Gabbie Plain in her last year in the circle. You might think this is a silly choice since they lost the magnificent trio of Taryn Atlee, Sis Bates and Morganne Flores. But, sometimes teams can surprise you, kind of like an FSU team that many didn't expect to make it so far last season.
My first teams out are FSU, Texas, Arkansas and Virginia Tech. Let me know your 8 picks for OKC and see you for the 2022 college softball season.