We're approaching the opening weekend of the 2023 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. Let's get into it.
Oklahoma just might be able to 3-peat
"Just might" doesn't even do it justice. The Oklahoma Sooners took home their second consecutive national championship in 2022. They were led by the new NCAA home run record holder: Jocelyn Alo. Alo has moved on from college softball, and typically you'd think the Sooners would be hurting with that caliber of a loss, not to mention losing their ace, Hope Trautwein, as well. But no. Not even close. The Sooners return D1softball's No. 1 overall player in Tiare Jennings, they have 10 players overall on the list of 100, and a slew of transfers.
"I can't say enough about the Sooners. Can they 3-peat? I absolutely believe it," Henry said. "You look at a healthy Jordy Bahl coming back in this season, obviously Alex Storako, and I don't think we talk enough about Nicole May. She is kind of the quiet one in the circle but she just knows how to get it done. Also, Haley Lee and Cydney Sanders jumping into that line up with Jennings, the No. 1 player in Division I softball."
Storako transferred to Oklahoma from Michigan — in the two full campaigns since the 2020 season, Storako compiled a 47-11 record, 1.44 ERA and 570 strikeouts in 346.1 innings.
OU won't have to worry about slugging with the addition of Sanders. The reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year slugged .952 with 21 home runs, 63 RBI and a .566 on-base percentage as a freshman at Arizona State. Lee also transferred in from Texas A&M after batting .422 with 25 home runs and 51 RBI as a junior then closed out 2022 with a .405 batting average, 15 home runs and 45 RBI while guiding the Aggies to the 2022 NCAA Norman Regional.
This is on top of players like Grace Lyons, Kinzie Hansen and Jayda Coleman. And in the circle, Storako will join Bahl, who practically took the sport by storm last season before her injury. This team is loaded in literally every category, even after losing the best player in the sport of softball. A 3-peat? It is more than possible.
The rest of the top 5 — and why
After Oklahoma — UCLA, Oklahoma State, Florida State and Florida close out the top five. The Gators got the edge over fellow SEC team Alabama for the fifth spot.
The Bruins are another team that loaded up from the transfer portal this offseason. The No. 1 reason for this high ranking, though, is the return of Megan Faraimo. According to Henry, she had an incredible fall and offseason and what she described as a "hyper-focus." Then on top of that they added former Arizona Wildcats Sharlize Palacios and Janelle Meoño, as well as two former Oregon Ducks in Brooke Yanez and Rachel Cid and another very talented incoming freshman class. Not to mention, Henry thinks we should all watch out for Maya Brady this season, who she feels has something to prove in 2023.
The Oklahoma State Cowgirls come in at No. 3 in the D1softball preseason top 25. Henry said that head coach Kenny Gajewski argued that they have the best pitching staff in the country this season. Hard to argue with that with Kelly Maxwell as the ace and then Lexi Kilfoyl, a two-way transfer, similar to Miranda Elish, from Bama.
Florida State was knocked out of their Tallahassee Regional last season, but return a strong group for 2023.
"The one thing you can count on with Lonni Alameda and the Seminoles is that they have an incredible culture there." Henry said. "I think they will be ready to go this 2023 season."
They will be led by Kathryn Sandercock in the circle, and then you have star power up and down the lineup with names like Michaela Edenfield and Kalei Harding — the list goes on and on over there according to Henry.
Lastly, the Florida Gators. Florida returns Skylar Wallace and Kendra Falby for some incredible speed around the bases. In the circle, Elizabeth Hightower, Rylee Trlicek and Lexie Delbrey highlight a star-studded rotation. That roster, per D1softball, just barely edges out Montana Fouts and the Alabama Crimson Tide before the season.
Here is a look at the entire D1Softball preseason top 25
|RANK||TEAM||FINAL 2022 RECORD||FINAL 2022 RANK|
I asked Henry what some of the toughest decisions were in terms of making these rankings. Her immediate response was the fact that Oregon State didn't make the top 25 after reaching the WCWS just last season. It was a tough decision, but the D1Softball team felt their were some big question marks without Mariah Mazon in the circle and at the plate. Same thing for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs missed out of the top 25 despite making it to the Super Regionals last season.
The biggest storyline for 2023
It is a storyline every year, but it feels like the main one this season. Henry felt that the biggest storyline entering 2023 was how teams respond following the departure of their aces. The sport of softball lost a lot of arms heading into this season. Think Virginia Tech's Keely Rochard, Oklahoma State's Miranda Elish, Texas' Hailey Dolcini, Peyton St. George at Duke, and Hope Trautwein at OU. Big-time pitchers for some big-time teams last season. Who will step up? That led us perfectly into the next topic....
The top pitchers to watch in 2023
- Jordy Bahl — Oklahoma
- Megan Faraimo — UCLA
- Kathryn Sandercock — FSU
- Danielle Williams — Northwestern
- Chenise Delce — Arkansas
- Jala Wright — Duke
- Montana Fouts — Alabama
FRESHMEN STAR POWER: Top 55 freshmen to watch in 2023
Top players to watch in 2023
- Tiare Jennings — Oklahoma
- Cydney Sanders — Oklahoma
- Kiki Milloy — Tennessee
- Hannah Gammill — Arkansas
- Jada Cody — UCF
- Valerie Cagle — Clemson
Those clearly don't cover all of the top pitchers and players to watch in 2023, so take a look at D1softball's top 20 players entering 2023.
Under-the-radar teams to watch this season
The first team mentioned by Henry was UCF. Though she added they might not even be an "under-the-radar" team anymore following their run last season. Jenn Salling, a former Olympian, and Shannon Saile, who you might remember from the OU pitching staff not too long ago, joins the staff for this season.
"What I love about Cindy Ball-Malone (UCF head coach) is that she puts together a schedule that challenges her players and gets them ready and prepared for the postseason." Henry said. "Arguably it allowed them and put them in a position to host regionals."
The next team to keep an eye on in Henry's opinion is North Texas. They return a ton of talent with Ashley Peters and Skylar Savage in the circle for this season. They had a great regional last season with a big fight against Oklahoma State to end the season last year.
A team that could make a run to the WCWS
The first two teams that came to mind for Tara — Tennessee and Georgia.
"I think the addition of Payton Gottshall in the circle with them and a healthy Ashley Rogers..." Henry said. "I think they have a good shot at it."
As for the Georgia Bulldogs, they had three players in D1Softball's top 100 players. They also have a couple of important transfers and Tony Baldwin stepping into the head coach position. Lastly, Henry mentioned you can not count out Louisiana. This is another team that scheduled tough this season and will be tested early on in 2023.