1-27-2014 Spy Preseason Preview

Preparing for 2014
January 27 2013

NFCA has published a pre-season poll, and the USA Softball pre-season poll is due out this week.  Spy begins its assessment of 2014 potential by posting the final 2013 poll – which reflected all 2013 games plus the post season NCAA tournament – then adding new players to returning rosters or subtracting key players from 2013 whose performances were critical to those final standings.

The NFCA generally projected teams to finish at or near 2013 levels, although NFCA pollsters pegged USF at #25, which did not make the 2013 Top 25 final list.  Hawaii finished last year at #25 but did not make the NFCA list.

As always, pre-season polls are at best probability assessments.  Hard analysis must await an umpire saying “play ball.” Ten more days.

Top of Form

ESPN.com/USA Softball 2013 Final

  • ESPN.com/USA Softball
  • USA Today/NFCA Coaches
  • NCAA Women’s Softball RPI

Bottom of Form

 

RANK SCHOOL RECORD POINTS PREVIOUS
1 Oklahoma (20)  Fall 8-0 57-4 500 1
2 Tennessee   Fall 8-0 52-12 480 5
3 Texas  Fall 51-10 445 7
4 Washington 45-17 427 9
5 Florida 48-9 419 2
6 Michigan 51-13 403 8
7 Arizona State 50-12 390 4
8 Nebraska 45-16 362 16
9 Oregon 50-11 342 3
10 Alabama 45-15 304 T10
11 Missouri 38-14 300 6
12 Kentucky 41-21 237 17
13 Texas A&M 42-18 234 20
14 Florida State 44-19 223 19
15 Louisiana-Lafayette 47-15 192 NR
16 LSU 42-16 160 T10
17 UAB 40-19 150 NR
18 South Alabama 48-9 130 15
19 UCLA 40-20 127 T13
20 Baylor 42-17 126 18
21 Stanford 39-21 113 T13
22 Georgia 40-21 91 21
23 Louisville 48-13 79 12
24 California 38-19 63 22
25 Hawaii 45-13 37

 

The SEC boasts three teams in the top 10 in No. 1 Tennessee, No.4 Florida and No. 6 Alabama. The SEC and Pac-12 each had three teams in the top 10 to tie for the lead among all conferences. The SEC has eight teams in the top 25 with Texas A&M ranking 11th, Kentucky at 12th, Missouri at 14th, LSU at 17th, and Georgia at 23rd.The SEC had eight teams ranked in the top 25, more than any other conference.

2014 SEC Preseason Poll – January 27, 2014

1 – Florida (10 First Place Votes)
2 – Tennessee (2 First Place Votes)
3 – Alabama (1 First Place Votes)
4 – Georgia
5 – Kentucky
6 – Missouri
7 – Texas A&M
8 – LSU
9 – Arkansas
10 – Auburn
11 – South Carolina
12 – Mississippi State
13 – Ole Miss

Spy Pre-season Analysis of the Top 25

1. Oklahoma.  The defending national champion Sooners  lost all-everything Keilani Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne, the best 1-2 pitching combo in the nation, and very reliable catcher Jessica Shults, but OU swept through an 8-0 fall season using a cadre of sophomore pitchers like Dewberry Taylor, Maggie Ham, Leslie Miller, and Kelsey Stevens.  The Sooners still have a very powerful offense, led by the nation’s best home run hitter, Lauren Chamberlain, and other power bats in Shelby Pendley, Georgia Casey, and key role players like Destinee Martinez, Brittany Williams, Callie Parsons and some promising sophomores.  The Sooners scored 71 runs in the fall, giving up just 8.
Oklahoma’s 2014 schedule features 10 teams ranked in the preseason poll. After opening the season against No. 12 Kentucky on Feb. 7, the Sooners are also scheduled to face No. 3 Washington, No. 7 Arizona State, No. 9 Nebraska, No. 13 Louisiana Lafayette, No. 16 UCLA, No. 17 LSU and No. 21 UAB in out-of-conference contests. Within the Big 12, Texas opened at No. 10, while Baylor was ranked 18th. In addition, scheduled opponents Arkansas, Oregon State and Tulsa were all receiving votes in the preseason poll.
Oklahoma returns seven starters from last season’s national championship team that finished 57-4 overall and 15-2 in the Big 12 to earn its second straight conference title. Among those returning are USA Softball National Player of the Year finalist Lauren Chamberlain, Second-Team All-American Shelby Pendley and Second-Team All-Region honoree Destinee Martinez.

2.  Tennessee.  The Lady Vols have been ranked in the preseason top 16 each year dating back to 2005. UT’s previous highest preseason ranking was No. 2 in 2007. This year’s preseason ranking marks the sixth time UT has started the year ranked in the top 10, the fourth time it has been ranked in the top five and the third time it has started in the top three of the USA Today/NFCA Preseason Poll.  The Lady Vols enjoyed one of their finest seasons in program history in 2013, finishing as the national runner-up, making their sixth Women’s College World Series appearance in nine years and posting their eighth 50-win season with a final record of 52-12. UT returns several key players from its 2013 WCWS Championship Series run, including All-American seniors Ellen Renfroe (2011, 2012) and Madison Shipman (2012, 2013). With 11 returning veterans and seven exciting newcomers, Tennessee is primed for another big season and has goals that culminate in Oklahoma City.  The Lady Vols hit .339 as a team and outscored opponents, 63-6, with a 7-0 record in fall ball. Freshman Megan Geer hit .520 (13-for-25) with five homers, two doubles, one triple, 13 RBIs and 15 runs. Freshmen Taylor Koenig (.364 batting average, one homer, one double, five RBIs) and Annie Ale (.333 batting average, one homer, five doubles, nine RBIs).  Sophomores Rainey Gaffin and Lexi Overstreet also impressed in the fall; Gaffin hit .500 (1reet1-for-22) with four doubles, six RBIs and five stolen bases. Overstreet had two homers, two doubles and 10 RBIs, while hitting .389. UT pitchers combined for a 0.89 ERA and held batters to a .117 batting average. Senior ace Ellen Renfroe was 4-0 while throwing 25.0 shutout frames with 48 strikeouts and just four hits allowed. Gaffin saw some action in the circle, posting a 1.75 ERA and 12 strikeouts over eight innings.   Madison Shipman, Melissa Davin and Erin Gabriel will strengthen the Vols after recovering  from injuries.  Fall ball may not have answered a key question: in 2013, the Vols offense was heavily dependent on the three leadoff hitters; those graduates all could hit, slap or bunt.  Will the new lineup project the same offensive prowess?.

3.  Texas.  The Horns lost pitchers Blaire Luna and Kim Bruins.  Taylor Thom heads a list of strong hitters but they lost Taylor Hoagland’s power and clutch hitting. Smith, Kern, Slatten and Davis allowed no runs and no hits through 5.0 innings of one fall game, but the Horns lost to Texas State 6-4. Much tougher tests await in and out of conference.  The Horns, who dropped to #10 in the new NFCA poll, are projected as #3 in 2014 by the Big 12, coaches, behind Oklahoma and #20 Baylor.  A Top 10 finish nationally depends on a new pitching corps.

4.  Washington.  The Huskies were 5-0 in fall ball, and return a veteran lineup including ace Kaitlin Inglesby, senior pitcher Bryana Walker, and good fielding hitters like Victoria Hayward, Kylie Lahners, Courtney Gano and Hooch Fagaly.

5. Florida.  The Gators who received six first place votes in the NFCA poll and are projected #1 by SEC coaches swept eight fall games 127-0.  A redoubtable pitching staff of Hannah Rogers, Lauren Haeger, and Alyssa Bache was strengthened by freshman Delanie Gourley.  Haeger, Stephanie Tofft, and Kelsey Stewart provide solid hitting, all above .300 last year, topped by Haeger’s 18 homers.  Florida, the 2013 SEC regular season champion, was chosen to repeat with 10 of 13 first-place votes followed by national runner-up Tennessee with two first-place votes. Alabama was tabbed third and earned one first-place vote. Eight of the 13 SEC squads appear in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 preseason poll which was released last week.

6.  Michigan.  The Wolverines are a Top 10 projection by NFCA – #5. The Wolverines received one first-place vote and garnered 652 points in all for the inaugural poll of the 2014 campaign. It is the highest preseason ranking for the Maize and Blue since 2010 when the NFCA pegged U-M at No. 4. Michigan trails only fellow 2013 Women’s College World Series participants No. 1 Tennessee, No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Washington and No. 4 Florida in the poll. The Wolverines are the highest-ranked Big Ten team, joined by No. 9 Nebraska in the top 10.

The 2013 Wolverines won the Big Ten title for the sixth consecutive year and earned a spot in the WCWS for the 10th time in program history.

U-M returns 16 letterwinners and adds four freshmen to this year’s squad. Sophomore All-America shortstop Sierra Romero (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta) headlines the returners along with a pair of NFCA All-Great Lakes Region performers in junior pitcher Sara Driesenga (Hudsonville, Mich./Hudsonville) and senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard (Petersburg, Mich./Summerfield). That trio of Wolverines, along with juniors Lauren Sweet (Corona, Calif./Santiago) and Haylie Wagner (Orange, Calif./El Modeno) and sophomore Sierra Lawrence (Snellville, Ga./Greater Atlanta Christian),was listed on the 2013 All-Big Ten team.  U-M opens the season with a pair of games against ranked opponents on Saturday, Feb. 8, in Tampa, Fla. The season opener features No. 4 Florida, with No. 25 USF capping off the doubleheader. In all, Michigan has games scheduled against nine ranked opponents. The Wolverines will travel to Lafayette, La., for the first time to play a pair against No. 13 Louisiana-Lafayette during the Ragin’ Cajun Invitational (Feb. 14-16).

7.  Arizona State.  The Sun Devils return much of the squad which won two national championships, led by Dallas Escobedo, who is ably backed on the mound by Mackenzie Popescue, with sophomores Alexis Cooper and Jenna Makis.  ASU will score in bunches but keep opponents at bay with talented players like Cheyenne Coyle, Alexis Johnson, Haley Steele and Elizabeth Caporuscio, with the formidable force of Amber Freeman behind the plate.

8. Nebraska.  The Huskers are one of two teams from the Big Ten Conference ranked in the top 10. Defending Big Ten champion Michigan was picked fifth and received one first-place vote. Florida State, which Nebraska will face twice in its opening weekend, came in at No. 15 in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll. Other 2014 Husker opponents appearing in the poll include: No. 1 Tennessee, No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Washington, No. 7 Arizona State, No. 11 Texas A&M and No. 16 UCLA. Nebraska will also face Arizona, Houston and Wisconsin, three teams that received votes in the preseason poll.

Nebraska is coming off a 45-16 season a year ago, in which the Huskers advanced to an NCAA Super Regional for the first time in school history and defeated No. 3 Oregon to earn the program’s seventh trip to the Women’s College World Series. NU returns seven starters, including its entire pitching staff, which ranked 12th nationally in wins and 15th in ERA last season. All-America twins Tatum and Taylor Edwards are back for their senior years, as Nebraska is one of only seven teams nationally with multiple All-Americans on its 2014 roster.

9. Oregon.  The Pac 12 defending champion Ducks return 14 letterwinners off last year’s record-setting team, including two pitchers and six position starters. Oregon brings back 69.8 percent of its runs scored, 73.1 percent of its RBIs, 76.3 percent of its home runs and 81.7 percent of its stolen bases from the 2013 roster.  Individually, the Ducks welcome back two NFCA All-Americans from last season in outfielder Janie Takeda and catcher/designated player Alexa Peterson. Oregon also loses two All-Americans in pitcher Jessica Moore and infielder Kaylan Howard.

10. Alabama.   Any team which features Jackie Traina in the circle, and at bat, is a contender.  The Tide is ranked higher in the NFCA poll than it finished 2013, but is considered third-best by SEC coaches, behind Florida and Tennessee.  Alabama’s 2014 schedule includes seven teams on the list. Out-of-conference opponents include No. 15 Florida State, No. 20 South Alabama and No. 21 UAB. Of the eight ranked SEC opponents, Alabama will play conference series against No. 4 Florida, No. 14 Missouri, No. 17 LSU and No. 23 Georgia.

Alabama is one of only two teams in the nation that returns three NFCA All-Americans from last season, along with seventh-ranked Arizona State. The Tide welcomes back senior pitcher Jackie Traina, senior infielder Kaila Hunt and sophomore outfielder Haylie McCleney.  But, the Tide has lost key players who were essential parts of those WXWS championship games: Kayla Braud, Amanda Locke, Cassie Reilly-Boccia, Courtney Con;ey, and Jazlyn Lunceford. The vote by their SEC peers reflects a question: can the 2014 team fill those gaps.

The Crimson Tide opens its season on Friday, Feb. 7 at the Troy Subway Invitational. There, Alabama will play five games over three days against Kennesaw State, North Florida, Northwestern State, Middle Tennessee State and Troy.

11.Missouri.  The Tigers lost ace Chelsea Thomas, one of the better 2013 pitchers, but still ranked #14 with NFCA.  Head coach Ehren Earleywine welcomes back several proven offensive contributors and a youthful pitching staff ( Tori Finucaine and Casey Stangel are freshmen) for his eighth season. Sophomore 2B/OF Emily Crane (Troy, Mo.) returns after leading the 2013 squad with a .376 batting average, as well as spending this past summer playing with USA Softball’s Junior Women’s National Team. Junior 3B/C Angela Randazzo (Poway, Calif.) and junior 1B Kelsea Roth (Yorba Linda, Calif.) return after posting team bests in RBI (47) and home runs (16), respectively.  Sami  Fagan and Corrin Genovese are highly skilled on defense and offense.  That youthful pitching staff is reflected in an SEC projection to finish 6h.

12. Kentucky.  SEC coaches project Kentucky at #5.  Last week, Kentucky earned its highest preseason ranking in school history coming in at No. 12 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division I Preseason Top 25. The school-record preseason ranking bested the 2012 team’s No. 13 preseason ranking in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25. UK, which was not ranked in last season’s preseason listing, finished the 2013 season with a school-record 41 wins en route to an appearance in an NCAA Super Regional and No. 14 final ranking. The Wildcats return 15 letterwinners from that accomplished squad, including eight starters and two starting pitchers, Lauren Cumbess and Kelsey Nunley.

13. Texas A&M.  The Aggies are projected at #7 in the SEC poll.  TAMU has real depth in the circle: Rachel Fox, Lauren Ainsley, Sara Mireles, and sophomores Katie Marks and Kristen Davenport.  The Aggies will miss May’s bat and glove.

14. Florida State.  Ranked #15 in the NFCA poll, the Seminoles will be tested early; they open the season against #8 Nebraska.  The `Noles are the only ACC school ranked in the USA Today/NFCA preseason poll while FSU will take on three top-10 schools in 2014. The season opens against No. 9 Nebraska on February 7 at the Aggie Hotel Encanto Classic hosted by New Mexico State. The Seminoles will also travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the Easton Crimson Classic hosted by No. 6 Alabama from Feb. 28 to March 2. FSU will play No. 4 Florida in Gainesville on April 2 before hosting the Gators in Tallahassee on April 9.

Six other opponents, including ACC foes NC State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and UNC are receiving votes in this year’s preseason poll. The ACC could be more competitive with Notre Dame and Virginia Tech in the mix. The USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Poll is voted on by 32 NCAA Division I head coaches, one representing each conference.

15. Louisiana Lafayette.  The Ragin Cajuns are ranked 13th in the NFCA poll.  The Cajuns face six top-25 teams on the 2014 regular season schedule, accounting for 17 games.  No. 2 Oklahoma (March 14-15), No. 5 Michigan (Feb. 14-15), No. 10 Texas (Feb. 7-8), No. 18 Baylor (Feb. 28 & April 22), No. 20 South Alabama (April 12-13) and No. 25 USF (Feb. 22) are all on the Cajuns’ schedule, with Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas and South Alabama each making trips to Lamson Park.

The Cajuns maintained a top-25 ranking, despite losing several key players from 2013, including All-Americans Nerissa Myers, Brianna Cherry and Sarah Draheim. Louisiana returns All-Sun Belt selections Natalie Fernandez, Jordan Wallace and Shellie Landry, to compliment a young team entering the season.

The Cajuns open the 2014 season on Feb. 7 for the 28th Annual Louisiana Classics with Northern Iowa at Lamson Park.  First pitch for the season is scheduled for 2 p.m.

16. LSU.  LSU, projected to finish 8th in the SEC and 17th by NFCA, won the final SEC Western Division title and finished in a fourth-place tie en route to a 42-16 record during the 2013 season, the program’s 15th 40-win season since softball was reinstated in 1997.  The Tigers returned 14 letterwinners led by a trio of All-SEC honorees in A.J. Andrews, Bianka Bell and Jacee Blades. Andrews was a NFCA All-American Third-Team selection, while Bell was named the SEC’s Freshman of the Year. Four members of LSU’s six-player freshman class collected NFCA or Max Preps All-American status during their prep careers. But they have to overcome the loss of All American Rachelle Fico, a national leader in ERA.  The Tigers open with #10 Texas.

17. UAB.  NFCA pollsters projected UAB to finish down at #21. The Blazers are the only Conference USA team to appear in the poll, while Tulsa received 23 votes. UAB is coming off its best season in program history after claiming its first Conference USA regular season title and finishing the year 40-19. The Blazers capped off 2013 by defeating No. 16 UCLA in 13 innings in the NCAA Louisville Regional, and advancing to their first ever NCAA Super Regional, where they fell to Florida in two games.  But the Blazers play five of the top 25 teams including Oklahoma, Alabama, Baylor, South Alabama and Georgia.

18. South Alabama.  The Jaguars are the defending Sun Belt champion.  To keep their ranking, they will compete against UAB, Georgia, Baylor and Louisiana-Lafayette.  USA returns seven starters.

19. UCLA.  NFCA projects a slight upgrade to #16 but Spy suggests the veteran-laden Bruins c ould go much higher.  Very experienced pitching corps includes Ally Carda, Jessica Hall, Courtney Rivera and Paige McDuffey.  Carda and Stephanie LaRosa have proven hitting chops, and the Bruins will get quality play from Mysha Sataraka, Brittany Moeal, and newcomer Delaney Spaulding, but someone besides Carda and LaRosa has to replace the production lost when BB Bates graduated.

20. Baylor.   The Bears are projected as second in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma.  The Bears return 15 players from last year’s team including eight starters. Among the returnees are senior left-handed pitcher Whitney Canion, senior first baseman Holly Holl, junior outfielder Kaitlyn Thumann and sophomore third baseman Sarah Smith.  Canion was a First-Team All-Big 12 selection while Thumann and Smith were second-team selections. Canion and Holl were also named to the Second-Team All-NFCA All-Central Region Team.

21. Stanford.  Stanford was one of six Pac-12 schools ranked in the preseason poll, second to only the Southeastern Conference’s eight. Washington led the way with a third-place ranking, followed by No. 7 Arizona State, No. 8 Oregon, No. 16 UCLA, Stanford and No. 24 California.

Stanford will play some of the nation’s best this spring, including 33 games against 17 teams that participated in 2013 NCAA Regional competition. The Cardinal will play 19 games against teams ranked in the preseason top 25.

Stanford will play a challenging nonconference schedule, highlighted by a Feb. 23 matchup against 2013 NCAA runner-up Tennessee at the Mary Nutter Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., before embarking on another tough Pac-12 schedule that includes seven NCAA Tournament teams from last season.

The Cardinal have two very promising freshmen pitchers: Madi Schreyer and Carly Hoover.

22. Georgia.  The SEC coaches have a higher opinion than the NFCA, ranking 4th in the exceedingly tough SEC.  Georgia is coming off a 40-21 season that saw it earn the program’s 12th-straight NCAA Tournament bid. The Bulldogs return several key players, including seven position starters and two starting pitchers for 2014.

Among the returners is a NFCA All-American, three Easton All-Americans, three All-Southeast Region selections, the SEC Co-Freshman of the Year, three SEC All-Freshman honorees, two First Team All-SEC selections and two members of the SEC All-Tournament team.  The group includes Gerri Ann Glasco, a talent on both sides of the plate.

In all, the Bulldogs will face seven teams that appear in the 2014 preseason poll, including No. 6 Alabama, No. 11 Texas A&M, No. 12 Kentucky, No. 14 Missouri, No. 17 LSU, No. 20 South Alabama and No. 21 UAB.  Georgia kicks off its 2014 campaign when it hosts the Seventh Annual Red and Black Showcase February 7-9, welcoming Winthrop, North Texas, and James Madison to Jack Turner Stadium.

23. Louisville. Last season, the Cards debuted at No. 18 and went on to tie their program high at No. 8 on April 23. The Cards’ spent three weeks in the top 10 and five weeks at No. 11 in 2013. This marks the 33rd straight time Louisville has appeared in the NFCA top 25 rankings dating back to the beginning of the 2012 season. UofL’s 2014 roster includes eight letter winners from last year’s team, including 2013 All-America selection Katie Keller, All-BIG EAST team members: Whitney Arion, Caralisa Connell, Hannah Kiyohara, Rachel LeCoq and Maggie Ruckenbrod; and 2012 All-American selection Taner Fowler. The Cardinals also welcome 10 newcomers to this season’s squad. Louisville will open the 2014 season in Boca Raton, Fla., at the FAU “Kickoff” Classic Feb. 7-9.

 

24. California.  NFCA pollsters also reflected questions about the Bears’ fate without Jolene Henderson, projecting Cal at #24.  The Bears are one of six Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 25, with the Huskies leading the way at No. 3. Arizona State (No. 7), Oregon (8), UCLA (16) and Stanford (22) are also ranked. Conference foes Arizona and Oregon State also received votes toward the rankings.

Aside from the Pac-12 schools, Cal will face two more opponents ranked in the preseason poll. The Bears are scheduled for meetings with No. 11 Texas A&M and No. 18 Baylor, both at the high-powered Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs from Feb. 21-23.

Cal welcomes back three 2013 NFCA All-Pacific Region honorees in juniors Danielle Henderson (first team) and Cheyenne Cordes (second team) and senior Victoria Jones (second team). Cordes was also an All-Pac-12 second-team selection while Jones and Henderson were All-Pac-12 honorable mentions. The Bears also added several new faces to the roster in the offseason, including standout pitcher Katie Sutherland-Finch from Glencoe High School in Oregon and 2013 Ms. Softball State Player of the Year Kylie Reed.

25. Hawaii.  The days of Sam Ricketts and Parnaby are history and the Wahine will compete with a very young pitching staff against such powers as UCLA and California.

A number of other teams drew votes in the pre-season poll and will at the least try to take that 25th spot, including South Florida, Arizona (45), Arkansas (28), Hofstra (27), Tulsa (23), Wisconsin (21), N.C. State (16), Auburn (10), Long Beach State (8), Notre Dame (8), Virginia Tech (8), Houston (6), BYU (5), Oregon State (3), North Carolina (2), Western Kentucky (1)

RFH

 

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