Category Archives: SPY Editorials

1-26-2015 Auschwitz and Muslim Terrorists

AUSCHWITZ AND MUSLIM TERRORISTS January 26 2015 A Spy editorial


Tuesday, January 27, the leaders of Germany, France, Belgium. The Netherlands, Austria and Denmark will gather at Auschwitz for the anniversary of the death camp’s liberation in 1945. More than 1.1 million died at Auschwitz and Birkenau, and more than 300 survivors of the Holocaust will remember and mourn the dead. The second largest group of survivors in the world reside in the United States, which will be represented by Treasury Secretary Lew, an Orthodox Jew.

When I visited in 1993, I was struck by a the symbolism of a group of young Israelis gathered in front of the infamous wall at Auschwitz, waving their Israeli flags. I reflected to friends that Jews were still dying in the Middle East because of their religion and the very existence of the Jewish state.

Israel’s existence is a fact, established in law and international agreement. But even as survivors gather to reflect on the Nazi Holocaust, Jews are still dying, not just because they occupy what was once the Palestinian-Jewish mandate, but for the same reason they died in all the years after Hitler came to power and launched history’s most cataclysmic genocide. The horrors of the Inquisition and Russian pogroms pale in comparison.

The Allied powers declared war on Germany and demanded unconditional surrender.

The United States cannot declare war against Islam, which is not a state but a religion, practiced in 64 countries. But, ISIS has declared itself to be a state, and Great Britain and France have declared war on this would-be caliphate. Why not the United States? Is it fair or even correct to say that our posture might be different but for Obama who seems to have trouble balancing the pull of his birth as a black Muslim pacifist against the compelling demands on the man who should be the world’s leader.

Last night I watched Schindler’s List. If you watch the captured Nazi films, which I watched at Auschwitz and again Berlin, the shocking cruelty happened – and it is mind-numbing. Many psychologists have examined the question of why so many flocked to the Nazi swastika were seemingly quite willing to dehumanize the Jewish population of Europe. Today, modern sociologists are wondering why so many Muslim youth, including Americans, are willing to lose their lives in blind adherence to a radical cause. They do not worship Mohammad; they defile his name and their religion.

The sponsoring groups are different only in name – the methods of Nazi goons and Islamic terrorists bear stark similarities, graphically punctuated by beheadings and bombings. Some defenders say the lack of jobs, educational opportunities etc drive Muslim youth to the black flag. Perhaps for some, but not for many; the tie which inarguably binds is their desire to kill Jews.

That reality was reinforced Sunday morning. The White House chief of staff, while absurdly claiming that our counter-terrorism strategy was not affected by the coup in Yemen, a key to the Obama strategy, overlooked the rallying cry of the Houthi: death to Israel, death to Americans. More, the press has been given assurances by Valerie Jarrett, who sits at the President’s shoulder for no apparent reason and had who has been dismissed as irrelevant, that Obama’s strategy is defeating Isis. Too much of the world is in turmoil.

Has Obama become a modern day equivalent of the British general Haig in World War I who was willing to accept 50,000 deaths at the Somme. Recall the Dylan lyric from Peter, Paul and Mary: how many deaths until he knows that too many people have died.

Is it fair to ask how many deaths will Obama tolerate? Syria and Iran crossed red lines and their leaders are still in power.

Israel and America, indeed the Western world, will not be safe until Isis, al-Queda and the Taliban have been liquidated as threats.

Germany only became whole again freed from the scourge of Nazism.

The process of protecting us from Islamic terrorism begins with Obama, when he however reluctantly publicly identifies the reality of the threat.

Occupying the world’s most powerful bully pulpit, Obama should call on all the heads of mosques etc worldwide which embrace Islam to denounce the radicals who bring shame to their religion, a fatwah against those who blaspheme in the name of Mohammed. Their problem is not so much cartoonists in Paris, who deliberately and foolishly compromise the very essence of freedom of speech, but those Islamics who are fanatically intolerant in their faith.

Next, the Western powers should drop enough troops, tanks and planes into the killing fields of the Middle East to subdue and if necessary kill the terrorists, who are quite willing to kill Jews for their religious beliefs. I am a Catholic; the Pope should offer a prayer for the terrorists – after they are dead. Several cartoons were unkind to the Pope, just as a cartoon in Time was insulting to the Virgin Mary. But, Catholics did not rampage.  I know many Muslims in the USA who wish us no harm.  But the images which persist on Muslim TV are of Muslims dancing in the streets after the killing of Jews and others.

Extreme? So is losing your head. So is throwing bombs onto school buses full of children.

Obama needs to respond to the challenge – or get out of the way.


1-26-2015 Auschwitz reprint

Spy first published this story after visiting Auschwitz in March 1993.  It is just as timely today, with the anniversary of the Russian liberation on January 27, 1945. A new story follows.



Infamous train gate to crematoria at Birkenau


Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, 1945, effectively proving while ending the Holocaust. I’ve been to other concentration camps, and visited many of the most solemn places on the planet, like the Punchbowl, the cemetery at Normandy, Ground Zero, the Church of the Crucifixion in Jersualem, and Israeli’s Yad Vashem. Auschwitz grips the mind like no other – this was the penultimate killing field. Below is the story I wrote for State Department’s magazine after a 1993 trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau. As we confront terrorism around the world, we need to rethink the lessons of Auschwitz – created by the terrorists who swore their fealty to Adolph Hitler. RFH





In 1943, when the Nazis crushed the rebellion in the Warsaw ghetto, the great mass of European Jewry that was sent to the killing camps like Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, and Sobibor included a teenager named Emanuel Fuchs. Given his good size and strength, he was made a “kapo” and put to work shuffling bodies from the gas chambers to the crematorium. But, the rate of killing had increased so rapidly that often the bodies were buried in mass graves, and Manny became a grave digger. One day, he buried his mother and father, and was imbued with a dread resolve to see justice done. He later assisted the 0SS in tracing and identifying former SS and other camp officials. In later years, Manny Fuchs became a well—known photojournalist with whom I worked during the Kennedy and Johnson campaigns. In the dark night of November 22, 1963, when we were flying back to Washington, numbed by the events of Dallas, and speculating on what kinds of stories we should write that would convey to readers our concern about man’s inhumanity to man, Manny told us of his internment during the Holocaust. Even the best planned assassination, his thesis went, cannot compare to the systematic qenocide practiced against the Jews and others whom the Third Reich considered undesirable. To understand man’s inner depths, he concluded, one must go to a place called Auschwitz.


He’s dead now, but I promised Manny that, should I ever visit Poland, I would travel to Auschwitz, and stand where he stood on that ramp where the sweep of an arm decided who would live and who would die.


I would walk the Walk of Death from the tracks at Birkenau, the major killing camp associated with Auschwitz, where the trains rolled through the arched tunnel (the Death Gate) of the command post, to the point where selections began, those women and children who would die herded toward the south end and the “showers,” where they were gassed, and then on to the crematoriums, which the Nazis attempted to destroy at war’s end in a clumsy effort to deny their savagery, and from the crematorium to the pits where they dumped the ash of more than three million people. One sees the rooms full of shoes, of eye glasses, the incredible piles of human hair, the stacks of luggage belonging to those who were told Auschwitz would be a new beginning —— including the luggage of a frail Dutch girl named Ann Frank. There are the photographs, so familiar to all of my generation and older, but somehow they no longer shock the senses.


Indeed, Auschwitz and Birkenau are so quiet, in the early morning hours of a Sunday, partly covered by the snow earlier in the week, so quiet that one cannot hear the inner voices that had been anticipated, so abandoned that one does not conjure up the visions of the millions who walked these streets between the bungalows, who lay cramped, six to a box-like shelf while they still lived, who eventually walked down that street to their death. Perhaps the sights are so familiar they no longer send the mind reeling. But, then, one retraces his steps to Bungalow Seven at Auschwitz where prisoners were tortured in solitary confinement, or hung from hooks until their bodies separated, or put against the Black Wall between Bungalows 10-11, and shot.   Bungalow 10 is where Dr. Mengele, the so-called Angel of Death, performed his macabre “scientific” studies.


And, it is there that the mind grasps the unthinkable. They simply could not shoot that many people. So, one walks a hundred yards to the right, and enters a bunker – whose door is in clear vision of the commandant’s house and his family- and enters the first gas chamber. Next door is the first crematorium, which could burn 1,500 bodies a day, far better than shooting 50 an hour, each of whom had to be buried. But, after Wannsee, even twin incinerators burning 3,000 bodies could not keep pace with the killing frenzy, and new ovens were built at Birkenau, where many of the Jews were being killed upon arrival, which could burn three to five thousand bodies a day. The madness escalated and ever-more efficient ovens were built, until Birkenau could burn 25,000 bodies a day. And, yet it wasn’t enough.


But, it is there, at the third and last set of crematoria, that the mind closes hard on the soul-piercing recognition of the diligent, systematic application of technology to eliminate the Jews of Europe. The thought then strikes, and one understands why it was so difficult upon first entering the camps to grasp the reality of the Holocaust, because the mind cannot envision murder on this scale. Yet, once consumed by that knowledge, one is almost overwhelmed trying to imagine the sheer terror that filled those hearts and minds so suddenly confronted with the stark realization that death was upon them, and you are subdued by the parallel realization that those images, once conceived, will endure.


The nightmare occasioned by that recognition is intensified by still another reality of Auschwitz and especially Birkenau . A hundred yards from the central crematorium, just beyond the double fence and guard towers, are the placid   neighborhoods of Oswiecim. The guide is your age, but was “away during the war, and knew nothing about the killings” although his family lived next to the wire. Your driver is even older, and also from Oswiecim, but was also “away during the war. ” One has seen the aerial photos taken during the war, when the camps were bursting with the living and the dying, and wonders whether the Allied leaders really knew. But, these people knew. Maybe not this driver or this guide, but people knew.


I took two friends to Auschwitz.


The three of us stood there, a Catholic, an Anglican, and a Jew whose family lived in Eastern Poland and died in the camps, watching a group of young Israelis who had just arrived, bearing their blue and white flags emblazoned with the Star of David, and as we were leaving, paused to hear them recite their Kaddish. My Jewish friend wept silent tears, as we all realized that where these young people live, Jews still die because they are Jews, just as Muslims die in Bosnia because they are Muslims, and Sikhs die in India because they are Sikhs.


When ethnic cleansing becomes a national policy in any region, whether the victim is a Jew or Azerbajani, or Muslim, we have not yet learned the lessons of Auschwitz. When the talk turned to moral responsibility I told my friends about George Heisler, who escaped from a Nazi camp in Mainz. Heisler, a political victim, said, “When they came for the Gypsies, I was not a Gypsy, and I did not protest. When they came for the Communists, I was not a Communist, and I did not protest. When they came for the Jews, I was not a Jew and I did not protest. But, when they came for me, there was no one left to protest.”


The question burns at the conscience: if we know, and surely we do, about all the atrocities man continues to commit, and we do nothing, are we really any different than the residents of Oswiecim? Perhaps they were powerless against the SS, Gestapo and Wehrmacht but are we? If we do nothing, or   too little, and refuse to step away from the jungle, which is seemingly never far removed from the core of civilization, no matter how technologically advanced, we condemn ourselves to membership in that long roll of “those who knew.”


Forty-eight years have passed since the last trainload of human beings passed beneath that arch, forty-eight years since men and women deprived of the last semblance of dignity marched under that cruel ironwork proclaiming Arbeit Macht Frei, forty-eight years and still part of our moral obligation to our neighbors is imprisoned at Auschwitz.


We must not forget, because a part of all that is good about mankind died at Auschwitz. We must react, and not just with sadness for the past but out of concern for the future. The killing has not stopped; only the venue has changed. If people want to understand the imperatives for stopping the atrocities of the modern world, let them come to a place called Auschwitz.


Rayburn Hesse

March 9, 1993


6-27-2014 Looking Ahead with Craig Cress



In a wide-ranging, 90 minute interview with Spy, on the margins of the Women’s College World Series, Executive Director Craig Cress sought to advance his positive outlook and to quell several rumors, particularly the rumor that he wants to return ASA to its slow pitch roots.  Not only is Cress a former baseball player who has played and umpired fast pitch, he says the future of ASA is with youth – and he sees youth fast pitch as the growth area for softball.  The main emphasis in the interview however was on the road ahead, and Cress, whom I have known for many years, is as always forward looking and optimistic.



The biggest challenge, says Craig Cress, reviewing his first year as the new executive director of ASA/USA Softball, is communications with a very diverse audience – not just with his Executive Board or the nearly 100 commissioners and directors who oversee vast parts of the domestic softball world, but with the players, coaches and managers who are the embodiment of the sport – fast and slow pitch.


There are so many levels and personalities, Cress sees a central task as ensuring that all ASA components receive and adhere to the same message.


Several observations are critical to this assessment.


Cress evinces a major change in ASA’s down-the-line attitude toward competition.  Cress considers competition good for all – ASA, PGF, USSSA, etc.  I reminded him of problems caused by ASA officials below the level of Executive Director (including remarks made in meetings observed by Spy).  A family illness kept him away from the 2013 NFCA national convention, where he had hoped to attend the travel ball caucus, but he affirmed his commitment to attend in 2014.  He wants to get to know the travel ball community.  His predecessor, Ron Radigonda,  attended to the benefit of ASA and travel ball.


While national team tryouts and participation will continue to be limited to players who have competed in ASA sanctioned tournaments, a major sticking point with the travel ball community, Cress said players can compete in ASA as well as other organizations and be considered for national team recruitment.


All those who sponsor tournaments, ASA included, have to offer a product people want, Cress added.  While he sees ASA appealing more to the masses, Cress said ASA will continue to reach out to elite players, eg, for Gold nationals.  And for the inaugural ASA 16 Gold.  He believes ASA has an advantage in central locations at all levels; he believes ASA has done a good job in his year aboard with ASA Gold qualifiers.


Cress agrees with many softball observers that tournaments have become too large, not just at the so-called exposure tournaments but in ASA and other competition.  A field of 96 teams is just too large, which is why 16 Gold will be limited to 48 teams.  And, 18 Gold will remain at 64.


Cress does not want any area to expand at the sufferance of another; he wants to see measurable progress in several areas which he concedes have been lagging. Like women’s majors.  We reminisced over a few great teams from the past of women’s majors, and showdowns which featured stars like Michelle Smith, Lisa Fernandez and Dot Richardson – plus a rafter of stars fielded by the Brakettes.  Cress evidenced an understanding of the hurdles faced by women’s majors – expenses, travel away from new jobs and families, facilities.  He showed no inclination to breathing new life into 23-Under.  ASA can provide facilities, umpires and balls for women’s majors, but will not pay stipends or travel costs, eg, a tournament in Mexico.


Cress is unsure of the participant ceiling on post-college softball – national teams, pro teams, women’s majors, ie, now many women want to play beyond college.  Cress is concerned that the product is diminishing.  He is determined to seek that level.

Many of those same challenges confront youth softball.    Cress realizes the financial burdens of youth softball are borne by parents – from the time their daughters play T-ball up to and usually including college –and by organized team activities.  And, he recognizes that travel ball is a path to college.  However, like many others, Cress is concerned that travel ball has gotten to be a big business, and worries about the quality of the product.  He has heard the concerns of college coaches about the time allocated to travel ball tournaments and the drain on budgets, and he understands why some college coaches prefer their own camps (which he is astute enough to realize that campus clinics transfer money from parents to colleges in lieu of travel ball tournaments).  The level of instruction, he realizes, varies from camp to camp and tournament to tournament, and urges greater focus on the quality rather than the quantity of instruction.  ASA did not take a formal position with NCAA on the various suggestions by some in NFCA who want to restrict the college/travel ball recruiting calendar, but would respond if asked.  There are other issues with respect to youth sports, eg, aggressive parents who cloud the picture with coaches and recruiting.


Cost is also very much a factor in international competition.  The budget for equipping the Bill Barber Park facility in Irvine for televising the upcoming IX World Cup is $300,000, almost all of it borne by General Tire and outside resources, with some contribution by ASA.  General Tire has come aboard as the principal sponsor but SPY does not know what expenses General Tire will cover.  SPY understands that the eight participating teams are responsible for their expenses.


Expenses for Team USA, which includes playing in Canada and Italy as well as the International Cup in the Netherlands, are traditionally paid in part by the USOC, and in part by funds earned through the tours and camps, and some ASA funds.  Team USA players receive daily per diem in addition to expenses.  Stipends were paid during Olympic years and USA winning teams were given $25,000 per player by USOC.


Cress participated in the inaugural congress of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, along with Dale McMann, the new president of the International Softball Federation.  Cress came back from Tunisia with a heightened sense of support building for softball and baseball to return to the Olympic program in 2020, not least because Japan is the host and both sports are wildly popular in Japan.  More, Japan has the facilities to host both.  A decisive vote on 2020 will be held by IOC in December. Some in IOC would like to add at least two more sports; Cress noted that IOC head Thomas Bach wants to keep the number of athletes level; more, Bach says some so-called winter sports should be moved to the fall, that the Winter Olympics should focus on events which require ice and snow.  Cress is encouraged that cities in the US are considering bids for the 2024 Games.


The IOC now recognizes WBSC as the spokeman for both sports; and they will no longer have separate seats at the IOC table.  But, McMann is the vice president for softball and will be heard.  Baseball and softball will continue to receive separate non-government organization allotments from the International Olympic Committee, which in the past has not directly benefitted the USA program budget but does support the international tournaments played by the USA.  Don Porter is out of ISF and WBSC but could be an informal liaison.  Cress said ISF headquarters will remain in Plant City, Florida.  No plans have been finalized for an executive director to manage day-to-day ISF activities.  (Recent Spy inquiries have been rerouted to Lausanne, where WBSC has its headquarters.)


Cress intends to travel with Team USA to the international tournament in Holland (we discussed my many trips to Holland which was used as a base for other kinds of activities).  Cress is fully aware of Spy’s repeated assertion that there should be a different director of national teams; we did not discuss personalities but Cress did say all employees are subject to review.


All in all, a pleasant free-wheeling discussion between two old friends.


As much as anything else, I appreciated his openness to competition, and his belief that the challenge for ASA is not to limit or squelch that competition but to offer a better product.


Rayburn Hesse


2-13-2014 Historical Crimea



A reader sent this beautifully photographed video about Sochi – a reader who said she was tired of the negative press comments about hotel rooms and toilets..


Click on the photo.  It’s a Powerpoint presentation.
Then visit other parts of the Crimea, in particular Yalta, the historically most important city in the region.  Here, Russian nobles built great mansions and the superbly crafted Alexander Nevsky cathedral.  The mansions include Massandra Palace, used by Stalin and featuring a wax figure of Stalin at his desk.  But, the architectural and historical gem is Livadia, the palace built by Nicholas II.


The Europe much as we know it today was handshaped by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin – FDR gave away too much.  Nicholas had hoped to retire to Livadia after he abdicated but he and family were exiled to Ekaterinburg where they were assassinated.


Perhaps you noticed the crests on the uniforms worn by the Russian and German hockey teams – the double eagle of the Romanovs and the double eagle of the Prussian royal family.  A great deal of history is associated with those crests.  I have perhaps more interest in that history than some readers.  My great-grandfather was an officer in the Prussian cavalry under Bismarck.  I tried unsuccessfully to find a genealogical link to Princess Alice of Hesse, who became the Czarina Alexandra after her marriage to Nicholas.


A critical footnote to WWI, whose 100th anniversary is remembered through out Europe.  It was called the War of the Cousins because the King of England, the czar of Russia and the German Kaiser were all cousins, as was Princess Alice, all descendants of Queen Victoria.  Intermarriage was seen as a factor in the hemophilia of the Czarevich, Alexei.  A point well made by Robert Massie is that if there had been no hemophilia, there would have been no Rasputin; if there had been no Rasputin, there would have been no revolution.
2014WinterspielienSzocsi.pps (8.1mb)



A reader sent this beautifully photographed video about Sochi – a reader who said she was tired of the negative press comments about hotel rooms and toilets..

Click on the photo.  It’s a Powerpoint presentation.
Then visit other parts of the Crimea, in particular Yalta, the historically most important city in the region.  Here, Russian nobles built great mansions and the superbly crafted Alexander Nevsky cathedral.  The mansions include Massandra Palace, used by Stalin and featuring a wax figure of Stalin at his desk.  But, the architectural and historical gem is Livadia, the palace built by Nicholas II.

The Europe much as we know it today was handshaped by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin – FDR gave away too much.  Nicholas had hoped to retire to Livadia after he abdicated but he and family were exiled to Ekaterinburg where they were assassinated.

Perhaps you noticed the crests on the uniforms worn by the Russian and German hockey teams – the double eagle of the Romanovs and the double eagle of the Prussian royal family.  A great deal of history is associated with those crests.  I have perhaps more interest in that history than some readers.  My great-grandfather was an officer in the Prussian cavalry under Bismarck.  I tried unsuccessfully to find a genealogical link to Princess Alice of Hesse, who became the Czarina Alexandra after her marriage to Nicholas.

A critical footnote to WWI, whose 100th anniversary is remembered through out Europe.  It was called the War of the Cousins because the King of England, the czar of Russia and the German Kaiser were all cousins, as was Princess Alice, all descendants of Queen Victoria.  Intermarriage was seen as a factor in the hemophilia of the Czarevich, Alexei.  A point well made by Robert Massie is that if there had been no hemophilia, there would have been no Rasputin; if there had been no Rasputin, there would have been no revolution.

2014WinterspielienSzocsi.pps (8.1mb)




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 Softball 2013 Final

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

Bottom of Form


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)