Top teams, WCWS picks and more

The road to the 2023 Women’s College World Series has begun, and back-to-back national champion Oklahoma sits unanimously atop the preseason polls.

Despite losing home run queen Jocelyn Alo and transfer ace Hope Trautwein, the Sooners return star players Tiare Jennings and Grace Lyons as well as phenom Jordy Bahl. In addition, coach Patty Gasso was active again on the transfer portal.

Can anyone stop the Sooners? UCLA is the last non-OU team to win the WCWS, losing to the Sooners in last year’s semifinals. The Bruins return Megan Faraimo and Maya Brady, who had 15 home runs and 53 RBI last year, and Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year.

Oklahoma State and Texas reached the WCWS semifinals a year ago, the Longhorns were the national runner-up, and both teams are ranked in the top 10 nationally.

Florida State returns Kathryn Sandercock, and Florida is the favorite in a crowded SEC that includes Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.

Sure, the season just started, but we’re less than three months away from the start of the NCAA Tournament and less than four months away from the WCWS in Oklahoma City.

We ask our college softball experts how good Oklahoma can be, who can dethrone the Sooners and which players will stand out on the diamond this season.

Go to:
Authority of Oklahoma | Who can stop OU?
Surprise Choices | Top newcomers
POY picks | WCWS Predictions

How good is this Oklahoma team compared to the last two championship years?

Jenny Dalton-Hill: Oklahoma has figured out how to manage roster depth, bench stability, 1-through-9 power and continues to acquire some of the most elite talent from the transfer portal each offseason. Jordy Bahl and Tiare Jennings lead the numbers for this 2023 team, but when it comes to the position players they pluck, Sydney Sanders and Haley Lee will come out of the gate and occupy spots on the field with power sticks, while freshman talent Jocelyn Erickson will learn. from star catchers in front of him as he prepares to anchor behind the plate. I wonder who will step up as second baseman in the circle. Will it be Michigan transfer Alex Storaco or Nicole May claiming those innings? Needless to say, opponents won’t relax as some of the big names graduate. If anything, new hungry talent has entered the ring, and Oklahoma will still be on top.

Madison Shipman: I think this year’s Oklahoma team could be as good as last year’s team. Bahl comes to the 2nd grade with full experience. The addition of Sanders and Lee will help bolster the offense against forwards like Grace Lyons and Jennings.

Kayla Braud: Same for all of the above. What sets Oklahoma apart is their depth. Jayda Coleman may be one of the most electric players in the game, from her bat to her ability to make big plays in the outfield; he is a great athlete. Lyon the the best shortstop in the game and he swings a good bat. This team should have as good or better a season than last.

Michelle Smith: Oklahoma has experience and will win games. The Sooners have depth. Their strength isn’t the same as last year, but it’s a strength that gets stronger in big situations. They have a complete pitching staff, and if they stay healthy, this team can make a three-peat.

Amanda Scarborough: The Oklahoma Transfer Portal has rebooted with the best transfer portal jackpot we’ve seen since its inception with Alina Torres, Haley Lee, Alex Storaco and Sydney Sanders. Not only do they have one of the most feared hitters in the country, they have one of the best pitching staffs and one of the best catchers in the country, Kinzie Hansen. This is still a hungry, strong team that knows how to win.

Which team has the best chance to end OU’s reign?

Ship: UCLA is the team with the best chance to beat OU. Her experience at the rim with Megan Faraimo and Brooke Yanez and her depth make UCLA a tough team to beat.

Bread: I like UCLA as the top contender to beat OU, as the Bruins took advantage of some big pickups in the transfer portal, giving them Brooke Yanez from Oregon, Arizona’s lockdown catcher in Charlize Palacios and another weapon in the outfield in Janelle Meono. Don’t sleep in Florida. The Seminoles will be hungry after missing the Super Regional last year and bolster their pitching lineup with seven options for coach Lonnie Alameda in ’23, led by Kathryn Sandercock.

Smith: UCLA could face OU in the championship series. Faraimo has an amazing work ethic and has been working for the past two years to get in the best shape of his life. His mix of speed could be enough to take away OU’s power.

Scarborough: Since others took UCLA, that was my #1 choice, I’ll throw Oklahoma State in the mix as well. OSU is a very experienced team in the WCWS and has one of the best pitchers in the country in Kelly Maxwell. Adding Lexie Kilfoyle from Alabama, who looks a lot different than Maxwell, to their staff was one of the biggest gains of the offseason.

Which team do you think can shock the softball world?

Dalton Hill: I’m excited to see Wichita State. With graduation having very little impact on last year’s roster, the Shockers are poised to make a big splash. The speed, power and average of Sydney McKinney and Addison Barnard at the top of the pack will lead the way for the Shockers, who will try to do just what their nickname says: Shock. This team put up big numbers last season, and now it has experience and expertise.

Ship: I think Ole Miss is going to shock the softball world. The Rebels have picked up great players through the transfer portal, including Maia Stevenson, Savannah Sykes, Jenna Lord and Makenna Klietermes, who will make a big impact this season.

Bread: Georgia returns one of its best offenses and has a great chance to make a run with its bats in the postseason. The biggest key to his success will be at the rim. Georgia will need help from replacement Shelby Walters if it hopes to make waves in the SEC.

Smith: I think Georgia will do well in the SEC with Shelby Walters in the circle, and the Dawgs always have a good shot. I think Maryland will surprise the Big Ten. The Terps are a very good team with offense and good hands at the rim, and they are coming off a successful season. Among the mid-majors, Louisiana has great pitching and is in the hunt every game.

Scarborough: I think the University of North Texas is going to surprise some people this year. The Mean Green have been under the radar and have gotten stronger with Rodney DeLonge as their head coach. They hit 71 home runs last year and return many of their top hitters like Kaylee Gamble, Molly Rainey and Kaleigh Christensen. Meanwhile, Ashley Peters is a talented LHP and a name you should know.

Which newcomer will make the biggest impact?

Ship: I think Brooke Yanez will have the biggest impact for UCLA. She has years of experience and is left-handed, so she has a completely different look than Megan Faraimo in the circle. The Faraimo-Yanez combination in the circle will be difficult for opposing strikers to prepare for.

Bread: Christina Foreman could be a difference maker for the Arkansas Razorbacks, who lost a large chunk of their offensive production from a year ago (Daniel Gibson, KB Sides, Lynne Malkin, Taylor Ellsworth and Hannah McEwen). A transfer from Duke, he hit .398 with 15 HRs last season.

Smith: Lexi Kilfoyle is at OSU. He continues to hurt the lineup and will be a great addition to help Kelly Maxwell stay strong toward the end of the season. They are a perfect 1-2 punch for the Cowgirls.

Scarborough: Tennessee’s Payton Gottschall comes over from Bowling Green, where he was a two-time MAC Pitcher of the Year, had a 1.78 career ERA and nearly 800 strikeouts. He could bring experience and depth to Tennessee’s pitching staff behind All-American Ashley Rogers, who has battled injuries throughout his career.

Who will be the player of the year?

Dalton Hill: I love Tiare Jennings’ look. He put up big offensive numbers in his first two seasons, and with Alo out of the spotlight, Jennings could still put up those numbers and earn POY honors. I’ve never seen a player put up those RBI numbers in his first two seasons. He is on pace to blow my RBI record out of the water.

Ship: Jordi Bahl is my guess. We’ve seen how dominant he can be in the circle (1.09 ERA, .145 average against) and it looks like we’ll be seeing more of his bat this season. After all, he had 20 home runs and 55 RBI as a high school senior.

Bread: If it’s not Tiare Jennings, I’ll give the nod to his teammate Haley Lee, who transferred from Texas A&M and anchors a Sooners offense that could really bolster his stats.

Scarborough: Kelly Maxwell has one of the best swing-and-misses in the game. He can be dominant, deceptive and has the ability to take over a game and a season at the rim. There’s been a pitcher who’s won the POY multiple times, and Alo says it’s time for a pitcher to win the award again if he wins it two years in a row.

What’s your WCWS prediction?

Dalton Hill: UCLA has a chance to get back to the championship game. The additions in the circle to help Megan Faraimo are strong, but the Bruins need to prove themselves early and stay healthy. Also, adding transfer Charlize Palacios behind the plate is just what the Bruins need to round out their scoring potential. If the Bruins play up to their potential, this could be another magical year for them. Getting to the championship game and winning it are two different things. Ultimately, I see Oklahoma winning it all again.

Ship: I think there’s a good chance we’ll see UCLA and Oklahoma in the championship series.

Bread: After being left out a year ago, I think the ACC will return a few teams to the WCWS. I’m looking specifically at Clemson and FSU.

Smith: UCLA and OU in the championship series. OU wins it in three games.

Scarborough: I’m with Kayla; The ACC is getting stronger and I think the ACC will get a few teams like FSU and Clemson for the first time. Virginia Tech has also been building every year since Pete D’Amour took over, and the Hokies have one of the best young pitchers in Emma Lemley who can absolutely dominate. I know I mentioned a few ACC teams to the WCWS last year and was wrong (oops!), but I think this is the year they do it.

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