Opening weekend is here. The 2022 college softball season kicks off Thursday, Feb. 10, and you do not have to wait long at all before we have some big-time matchups on our hands. I mean it is literally happening this weekend, and those preseason rankings will be put to the test immediately.
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Here are the top 10 matchups you will not want to miss this opening weekend. All times ET.
Thursday, Feb. 10
No. 5 Oklahoma State at No. 21 Arizona State, 8:30 p.m.
Oklahoma State comes in at No. 5 in the preseason and it has two pretty tough opening weekend, ranked matchups at the Kajikawa Classic. First, Oklahoma State faces No. 21 Arizona State at 8:30 p.m. ET on Thursday night for the first matchup of the season. Alynah Torres, Jazmine Hill and Makenna Harper return to ASU as their core players, but it will be really intriguing to see how the Sun Devils plan to make up for the loss of Maddi Hackbarth and her 20 home runs last season. They will have one of the toughest tests in just the first day of the season with an incredibly good OSU pitching staff.
Friday, Feb. 11
No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 20 Duke, 1:30 p.m.
The Cowgirls won't be done after ASU, though, because they have a top-20 team in Duke the following day. The Blue Devils have burst onto the scene since their inaugural season in 2018, and return three graduate seniors in Peyton St. George, Jameson Kavel and Rachel Crabtree.
No. 10 Texas vs. No. 15 Clemson, 5 p.m
Alright, I am VERY excited for this one. We have a Big-12 vs. ACC battle between the Longhorns and Tigers on Friday. As you might know, the Longhorns have added Hailey Dolcini to their roster from Fresno State, and she will pitch her first season for the Longhorns. Dolcini was among the leaders in the NCAA in both ERA (1.12) and strikeouts per seven innings (10) last season, and will join Shea O'Leary for the Longhorns. They are going up against Valerie Cagle and the Clemson Tigers. This team just started in 2020 and is already a championship contending team. Last season they won the 2021 ACC regular season title and finished runner-up at the ACC tournament. Cagle finished 28-7 with a 1.16 ERA and 267 strikeouts in 216.2 innings pitched while batting .404 with 17 home runs, 12 doubles and 45 RBI. No biggie.
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No. 7 Washington vs. No. 8 Arkansas, 9:30 p.m. (in Mexico)
Look no further. We have a top-10 battle on our hands on the second day of the 2022 softball season. Washington vs. Arkansas — two teams that we could see in the Women's College World Series by the end of the year. This should be a wonderful pitching duel, with Washington's Gabbie Plain back for her last go-around at Washington, and Arkansas' Mary Haff, the SEC Pitcher of the Year. This Arkansas team had a historic season in 2021 as the co-SEC champions, and now they add significant transfers in Callie Turner (Tennessee), KB Sides (Alabama), Taylor Ellsworth (Texas) and Chenise Delce (Tulsa). So a great team seems to have gotten better, and will be taking on a historically powerful program in Washington. The Huskies lost a terrific trio of Taryn Atlee, Sis Bates and Morganne Flores, so that adds even more intrigue to seem them work around it this season and fill in the holes. The two teams will face off AGAIN on Saturday night.
Saturday, Feb. 12 (I hope you don't have plans on this day)
No. 6 Florida vs. No. 16 Michigan, 11 a.m. ET
Another great one, this time on Saturday morning. The sixth-ranked Florida Gators will take on No. 16 Michigan for its first ranked matchup of the season. Skylar Wallace will play her first season as a Gator alongside Charla Echols and Hannah Adams. But they will be facing an incredibly strong pitching staff led by Alex Storako and Meghan Beaubien at Michigan.
No. 11 Missouri vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech, 6 p.m.
Here is yet another top-15 showdown. The Missouri Tigers will take on Keely Rochard and Virginia Tech. Again, two teams in contention for the WCWS. The Tigers return every single starter from last season, including the same four arms in the circle and a lot of experience and talent in their lineup. But Tech is incredibly experienced as well. Not only do they return one of the best pitchers in the nation in Rochard, but they also return nearly every major player from a team that reached the Super Regionals for only the second time in program history. According to D1softball, they also added one of the best recruiting classes in program history. This should be a good one.
No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 UCLA, 7 p.m.
My favorite matchup of opening week. For extremely obvious reasons. The No. 1 team in the nation, the reigning national champions and the reigning NPOY and NFOY will face a top-5 opponent and one of the most prolific softball programs in history. Here are two of the most experienced and talented teams in the nation facing off in opening weekend. Get excited ... it's warranted here. There has been a lot of talk in the offseason about the addition of freshman right-hander Jordyn Bahl to Oklahoma this season. So I couldn't be more ready to see her pitch for the Sooners. If she faces the Bruins, it will likely be Megan Faraimo in the circle and a mature lineup including Maya Brady, Briana Perez, Aaliyah Jordan and Kinsley Washington. Plus, I am ready to see the hot bats of Jocelyn Alo, Tiare Jennings and more going up against Faraimo. Don't miss this one. It is likely one of OU's toughest tests all season.
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No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 9 Arizona, 8 p.m.
The Crimson Tide have finally made the list and will face No. 9 Arizona on Saturday night. Montana Fouts and crew will face a new-look Arizona team. Mike Candrea is no longer the head coach of the Wildcats and the former All-American, Olympian and Arizona legend Caitlin Lowe will be in her first season as head coach. On top of that, the Wildcats lost a lot of key offensive pieces from 2021, including slugger Jessie Harper. But Lowe still had plenty of strong options to build her team around, and I am so excited to see what she will put together this season.
No. 20 Duke vs. No. 21 Arizona State, 9 p.m.
Another game from the Kajikawa Classic. Duke will now face Arizona State. This tournament is full of tough competition and is yet another chance for Duke to continue their standard of success set last season. Jada Baker is an infielder from Florida and sophomore pitcher Jala Wright transferred from Michigan State, two players new players to know. Wright will get to work with veteran pitchers St. George and Shelby Walters. Walters posted a a 1.28 ERA last season with 87 strikeouts and 33 walks in 147.2 innings pitched. St. George was 18-8 with a 2.21 ERA, 199 strikeouts and 38 walks in 158.2 innings pitched..
Sunday, Feb. 13
No. 13 Virginia Tech vs. No. 19 Kentucky, 10:30 a.m.
And last but certainly not least, Virginia Tech will also face Kentucky on Sunday morning to close out our top matchups to watch in opening weekend. The Wildcats have a lot of question marks in the circle, but should have a pretty experienced offensive lineup, including Kayla Kowalik, who batted .495 with 12 home runs, 11 doubles, six triples, 100 hits, 77 runs scored and 37 RBI while stealing 23 bases last season. Quite the player and one who D1softball's Tara Henry said to watch out for in Player of the Year conversations. Should be a good matchup against Rochard, and a good test for the Wildcats' pitching staff.
Some more to keep your eye on:
- No. 19 Kentucky vs. No. 24 Liberty, 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11
- No. 13 Virginia Tech vs. Northwestern, 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11
- No. 24 Liberty vs. Northwestern, 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12
- No. 11 Missouri vs. No. 24 Liberty, 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 13