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Numerous emails form a consensus that the top six will be Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Kentucky, but observers differ on the order of finish. Florida young but talented; Rodgers is back but losing Enea hurts. Pitching let them down at season’s end, but Junior team pitcher Lauren Haeger can make a difference, and they return stars like Moultrie, Schutte and Coyle, while adding Junior team standout Jessica Damico, . Georgia lost its very powerful senior class. Alabama graduated Dunne; can Jackie Traina fill the bill? Leslie Jury can make a pitching difference. Much of that powerful 2010 lineup returns: Braud, Luncefore, Reilly-Boccia and Locke. Kentucky seems to be everyone’s dark horse candidate, thanks to Lawson. LSU returns 17 players from its 2011 roster sparked by NFCA All-American Third-Team and All-SEC First-Team selection Brittany Mack along with All-SEC Freshman Team pick Simone Heyward. Strikeout artist Rachele Fico returns; Tigers seem solid at defense. The Tigers notched a 40-18 record and made their 13th NCAA Regional appearance last season. Tennessee is a question mark; loaded with talent at every position, but can they shake off the effects of last year’s slide? Lauren Gibson has starred on the USA national team. UT adds Cheyenne Tarango, a slugger on the Junior team, and Madison Shipman returns from the Junior team.
Michigan. The Blue and Maize lost Jordan Taylor to graduation; behindjunioe Stepehanie Spiereman, who had some good dames in 2010, the unproven pitching staff includes 2 freshmen. And, some big guns are gone. Nebraska will be anchored by Hageman and Workman; good mix of upper and lower classmen who will contend for the berth. No other Big 10 teams finished top 25.
For all the praise being heaped on the Southeastern, the Pac 12 could dominate post-season play – with defending champion Arizona State, Arizona, Stanford, Cal all boiasting veteran pitching, solid hitting, and good defense. Pitching puts them at the head of the class.
Arizona State ace Dallas Escobedo, who starred in the 2011 World Series and Junior World. She is backed up by Bach and Popescue, both very experienced. The Sun Devils may have lost some pop, but the irrepressible Katelyn Boyd returns at short; Amber Freeman, who had a good Junior World tour, is a versatile player. Key veterans return, like Lockwood, Haro and Parlich. The Sun Devils will be ready on Game 1 and may start the season as #1. Arizona has three Junior World stars: Chelsea Goodacre; Shelby Pendley, and Hallie Wilson, a hard hitter – to support a stellar pitching corps, headed by Kenzie Fowler, with able support from Shelby Babcock. The Wildcats pitcked up an important transfer – Jessica Spigner – from Tennessee. Two pitchers may be enough – if Fowler stays healthy. Much of the power has returned, Koria, DelPonte, Arriola and Kirker are dependable bats. UofA will match up well with ASU.
Stanford was already a contender for Pac 12 pitchin glaurels with Teagan Gerhart, supported by Jernna Rich, and now have added Nyree White, another Junior World Standout. Ashley Hansen is a consensus choice for best shortstop – in any conference. UCLA’s already deep pitching corps upgraded seriously with Ally Carda, who threw a no-hitter at Junior World, and has a strong bat. Returning pitchers include Desinty Rodina, Jessica Hall, and Aleah Macon. Katie Schroeder, excellent leadoff, Sammy Camuso and Andrea Harrison, and under-appreciated fielder and hitter, give the Bruins punch. California starts with ace Jolene Henderson, who doubles at 1st and hits hard; Arriana Arceq is a capable backup. The roster has additional depth with Cheyenne Cordes, another Junior World Star. Valerie Arioto, who stars on the USA national team, is among the best. Five freshmen are on the roster; hitters like Ziegenhirt and Echavarria will have to lead. Britt Vonk had some good moments in 2011. Washington drew heavily last year on Kailtin Ingelsby, who also can hit; can she step up her game as a sophomore? The Huskies have six freshmen on the roster but should benefit immediately by having Junior World standout Klyee Lahners in the infield. UW is experienced at several positions; Kimi Pohlman will continue to impress.
Oregon Under the direction of the third-year head coach White, this season’s 18-person Duck roster is arguably its deepest ever, according to the Ducks’ athletic staff. Based on 2011 awards, Oregon welcomes back All-Pac-10 and All-Region First-Team pitcher Jessica Moore, and All-Region Second-Team and All-Pac-10 Freshman Team infielder Courtney Ceo and catcher Alexa Peterson. Similarly, the outfielder duo of Samantha Pappas and Allie Burger were All-Pac-10 First Team and All-Region Second Team picks in 2010, respectively. Among other top returnees, senior pitcher Samantha Skillingstad and infielder Kelsey Chambers ranks sixth and seventh all-time for UO in career strikeouts (398) and homers (26). Junior second baseman Kaylan Howard has started more games (108) career-wise at one position the last two years. Among other notable 2011 stats for returnees, senior infielder Christie Nieto led UO in on-base percentage (.435), senior infielder Lindsey Chambers hit a career high .292, sophomore utility player Kailee Cuico sports the team’s third-best home run:at-bat ratio among returnees (1:16:4 / 7 HR, 115 AB) behind Lindsey and Kelsey Chambers (1:8 / 1:10.8), and sophomore utility player Lauren Kotz was the team’s most called-upon pinch-runner. UO graduated only two starters from last year, and welcomes a talented six-person freshman class composed of outfielders Alyssa Gillespie (Hillsboro, Ore.), Sara Goodrum (Red Mountain, Ariz.) and Janie Takeda (Placentia, Calif.), infielders Hannah Melick (Pacific, Wash.) and Jamie Rae Sullivan (Huntington Beach, Calif.) and pitcher Karissa Hovinga (Ralston, Neb.).
Oregon State will continue to rely heavily on wins by Paige Hall, but she needs more support.
Utah brings a very young team into its first year in Pac 12, with little record for comparison.
Georgia Tech lost two aces, but its 2012 mound corps could dominate: veterans Hope Rush and Lindsey Anderson could be bolstered by freshman Kylie Kleinschmidt. Look for Kelsi Weseman to have another super year at short. Tech was the only ACC team in the Top 25. Virginia Tech relied heavily on Jasmin Harrell; the question is wether three newcomers – Bailey Liddle, Lauren Darden and Isabella Corarro can put the Hokies into the top ranks of ACC? Florida State is now home to Illinois ransfer Monica Perry. This team with six red-shirts will be tested for cohesion. North Carolina has two established aces: Lori Spingola and Amanda Buchholz, with high potential from freshman Lauren Walker. The question is their power. Maryland returns Kendra Knight as its veteran pitcher, but Terps fans are expecting big things from veteran travel ball pitcherKaitlyn Schmeiser. Virginia will continue to draw on Melanie Mitchell and Stephanie Coates but look to freshman Rachel Gillen for important contributions. The Cavaliers have an experienced lineup but last year lacked consistency. Boston College is a very young team but Chelsea Dimon could bolster the pitching staff, led by Horowitz, Speer, Pandolfo and DiMaso provide experience and leadership. The ACC is at best the fifth ranking conference. North Carolina State doesn’t have the horses yet to change that standing, but some promising newcomers who could light up some games.
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Baylor , which is predicted to finish 4th, returns 11 letterwinners and eight starters off of last season’s squad, including second-team All-American pitcher Whitney Canion. The Bears were ranked 4th at the end of 2012. Oklahoma State picked up freshman Simone Freeman, a star pitcher from Australia. Five seniors anchor the roster. Oklahoma State finished 2011 ranked 8th. Kat Espinosa and Moregan Hawkins headline the pitching staff, and have a solid team behind them. Texas A&M finished 2011 ranked 13th, and begin the 2012 campaign with the redoubtable Mel Zumewich; behind her is the capable Lindsey Sisk and three promising freshmen hurlers: Ainsley, Klein and Moreles. Power begins with catcher Megan May but there are some other solid bats.
OTHERS from the 2011 Final 25
Louisiana Lafayette was ranked 25th last season but could go higher in 2012. The Ragin Cajuns have 7 pitchers, led by star Ashley Brignac. Christi Orgeron has proved she can hit any pitcher.
Notre Dame was ranked 23rd at season’s end, the only Big East team to make the final list. The Irish return Laura Winter and Brittney O’Donnell but they lost six seniors.
Houston made the final 25 in the end of season poll and finished 18th. After graduation, this is a largely unproven roster with good upsides.