Hitting Superstars of Tomorrow 2016

NCAA Batters Ready to Hit the Big-Time

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
LOMBARD In my last article I focused on future NCAA pitching superstars, but now the hitters get a chance.  There is some incredible underclassmen hitting talent in the NCAA, so it's time to recognize some of the NCAA's future hitting superstars.  These are the names to look for on stat lines in the near future.

1. Katiyana Magua - 3B - Arizona

2015 Stats: .350 batting average, 26 home runs, 76 RBI, 62 hits, 42 runs

First on the list is Katiyana Magua.  Katiyana Magua had one of the best seasons ever for a sophomore.  In her 2nd college season Magua ranked #3 in the nation in home runs.  And Magua is much more than a threat to go deep at the plate.  She proved to be a very consistent hitter with a solid .350 batting average as well.  She also had a very respectable RBI and run total.  Arizona is one of the most storied teams in NCAA softball history, so anything less than competing for a championship is a disappointment.  That's why last year was so devastating for Arizona: it finished the season 41-20 and did not even make the playoffs.  But I'm sure Arizona will rebound in 2016, and Magua will be the leader they need to lead the team back to playoff success.

2. Kellie Christner - Outfielder - Michigan

2015 Stats: .393 batting average, 21 home runs, 67 RBI, 84 hits, 75 runs

The next hitter on our list is sophomore outfielder Kellie Christner.  Last season Christner proved herself to be one of the elite hitters in the NCAA by hitting 21 home runs and maintaining an impressive .393 batting average.  She also knocked in 67 runs and crossed the plate 75 times herself.  The production of Christner and senior slugger Sierra Romero was one of the more entertaining stories of 2015.  Both had incredible numbers and seemed to really challege each other, though in the end Romero barely edged Christner with 22 home runs and a .449 batting average.  Michigan made it all the way to the WCWS final in 2015 behind the electric bats of Christner and Romero, but the Wolverines fell in three games to the Florida Gators and lost a chance at the title.  Unfortunately Romero has graduated and Christner will no longer have her bash sister, but Christner will provide plenty of firepower for the Wolverine offense and should be able to lead it in 2017.

3. Marsa Runyon - Infielder - Alabama

 2015 Stats: .327 batting average, 20 home runs, 80 RBI, 54 hits, 36 runs

Third on the list is sophomore infielder Marsa Runyon. Runyon in the third sophomore on our list, but that did not stop her from slugging like a seasoned veteran.  In 2015 Runyon was tied for 19th in the nation with 30 home runs.  She also hit for a solid .327 batting average, knocked in 80, and crossed the plate 36 times herself.  Alabama was another team on our list with high expectations that were not met in 2015.  The Crimson Tide finished 3rd in the SEC behind Florida and Auburn and did not make the playoffs.  But Alabama is a huge softball state and has a long history of success, so I wouldn't count them out for long.  If Runyon can continue to improve, she should be a great recruiting tool over the next 2 years--what SEC bound freshman wouldn't want a chance to play with the best hitter in the SEC?

4. Delaney Spaulding - Infielder - UCLA

2015 Stats: .397 batting average, 20 home runs, 72 RBI, 75 hits, 69 runs

Delaney Spaulding is the 4th hitter on our list.  Spaulding tied for 19th in the nation in home runs last year with 20, and she was 3 measly points away from hitting .400.  The rest of Spaulding's stat line was also pretty quality with 72 RBI and 69 runs.  UCLA is going to be a scary team in 2016.  UCLA went 51-12 last year and finished 2nd in the Pac 12 after Oregon.  And with players like Spaulding, who will only be a junior in 2016, leading the team's offense UCLA has no where to go but up.  UCLA is already ranked #2 in the nation for the 2016 season.  Watch out NCAA!

5.  Tori Vidales - Infielder - Texas A&M

2015 Stats:  .368 batting average, 20 home runs, 56 RBI, 64 hits, 51 runs

The last player on our list is sophomore infielder Tori Vidales.  Vidales made a big splash in 2015 with 20 home runs, 56 RBI and 51 runs.  Vidales, like Runyon and Spaulding listed above, tied for 19th in the nation with 20 home runs.   Texas A&M has had a handful of really great players over the years (Megan Gibson comes to mind) but has never made a big splash in the postseason.  Last year it finished in the bottom half of the SEC with a 40-20 overall record and 12-12 record in conference.  But a big bopper like Vidales will form the bedrock for this team to succeed over the next few years and establish the Aggies as a top tier SEC softball program.  It will be exciting to see if Vidales can improve over her successful sophomore campaign.

So there you have it!  Look to these ladies to light up scoreboards over the next two years! Read more.


Pitching Superstars of Tomorrow 2016

NCAA Pitchers Poised to Make Headlines in the Next Few Years

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
LOMBARD It's that time again!  Time to identify the top underclassmen from 2015 who are poised to be the next big names in NCAA softball during the next 2-3 years.  Softball is a pitchers' game.  The team with the most dominant pitcher usually wins the gameand the NCAA title.  You cannot expect to get very far in the postseason without a top-rate ace pitcher.  We should therefore be able to predict which teams are going to make headlines in the next few yearsand have the best shot to win it allby sorting out their pitchers statistically.  So without further adieu, here are your top five NCAA pitching superstars of the future!

#1: Megan Betsa - Michigan - 2015 Sophomore

2015 Stats: 31-5 record, 1.72 ERA, 211 innings pitched, 333 strikeouts, 1.58 strikeout-per-inning ratio

Megan Betsa may be the best future NCAA pitching superstar ever.  Why?  Because not only does she have incredible numbers and a dynamite team around her at Michigan, but Betsa has WCWS final pitching experience.  Betsa got to pitch 6.2 innings during the three games of the WCWS final, and she performed reasonably well with 3 earned runs and 11 strikeouts.  But the experience of pitching in NCAA softball's biggest game is going to pay dividends years into the future.  Michigan is a perennial powerhouse in the Big Ten, and won a title in 2005.  Betsa's talents will be a great recruiting tool, and I'm sure legendary Michigan coach Carol Hutchins will find a way to put quality players around her and make the Wolverine sure contenders for 2016 and 2017.  Hopefully the 2015 national championship loss fuels a fire in Betsa's gut, inspiring her to improve her game and insure Michigan never again hoists a 2nd place trophy.  Betsa will certainly be a fun player to watch for the next two years.

#2: Sara Groenwegen - Minnesota - 2015 Sophomore

2015 Stats: 31-7 record, 1.67 ERA, 234 innings pitched, 379 strikeouts, 1.62 strikeout per-inning ratio

Alexis Osorio is another 2015 underclassmen pitcher on the verge of greatness.  Osorio was a key piece of a 2015 Alabama team that made it all the way to the WCWS final.  Osorio has all the tools to be a top tier pitcher, and the University of Alabama is a top SEC softball school that won the title in 2012 and was runner up in 2014.  Osorio has a great chance to really shine in Tuscaloosa in 2016 and 2017, and if she can continue to improve the Crimson Tide has an excellent chance to repeat as national champion.

#3: Alexis Osorio - Alabama - 2015 Sophomore

2015 Stats: 22-9 record, 1.75 ERA, 192 innings pitched, 227 strikeouts, 1.18 strikeout-per-inning ratio

Kelsey Stevens is the first bona fide ace pitcher to grace the mound at Oklahoma since super pitcher Keilani Ricketts graduated in 2013.  She has some big shoes to fill if she wants to accomplish even a fraction of what Keilani did, but she has proved at an early age that she has the skills to replicate Keilani's success.  Oklahoma had a bit of a "hangover" year in 2014 (by Oklahoma standards) in its first season without Keilani; the Sooners only advanced to the super regional and were bounced by Tennessee.  But the Sooners scored the top recruiting class of the 2015 season and have a burgeoning superstar pitcher in Kelsey Stevens.  If the group can continue to improve they will be hoisting some hardware in the near future.

#4: Randi Rupp - Texas State - 2015 Freshman

2015 Stats: 24-14 record, 2.70 ERA, 249 innings pitched, 293 strikeouts, 1.18 strikeout-per-inning ratio

Texas State is not a traditional softball contender school, but with underclassmen studs like Randi Rupp they might be in the near future.  Rupp exploded on the scene in 2015 and finished 12th in the nation in strikeouts with 293.  Rupp is the type of rock in the circle that could help attract other recruits over the next three years and turn Texas State into one of the top softball schools outside of the major conferences.  Rupp was only a freshman in 2015, and if she can up her game even a little we might be hearing a lot more about Texas State over the next three years.

#5: Jordan Dixon - Marshall - 2015 Freshman

2015 Stats: 33-15 record, 2.57 ERA, 235 innings pitched, 308 strikeouts, 1.31 strikeout-per-inning ratio

Jordan Dixon is another young ace who will surely make headlines during her softball career over the next three years.  Dixon placed 8th in the nation in strikeouts as a freshman in 2015.  Marshall is not in a top power conference, but she has had some success in the postseason in the recent past.  If it can attract players like Dixon it has a great chance of being a nationally recognized team during Dixon's tenure at the school.  Ranking in the top ten nationally in any statistic as a freshman is a major accomplishment, but ranking in one of the most useful pitching statistics (strikeouts) is reason to celebrate.  If Dixon continues to improve, she may be one of the all-time pitching greats at Marshall and could lead the school to national prominence.

There is the list!  Be sure to look for these names over the coming years! Read more.


NCAA Softball Adopts Video Replay

College Teams to Pilot Video Review this Fall

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
LOMBARD NCAA fastpitch softball has officially entered the 21st century: the NCAA softball rules committee is going to allow teams to review video and access video information during competition on an experimental basis for fall ball in 2015 and in 2016.

The rules show that this is only a very small step toward use of video replay during actual competition to review calls by the umpire, but I am willing to bet right now that video replay will be the norm during games probably for games in 2017 and beyond.  I'm sure the system will eventually look like the system in Major League Baseball where the manager has a few video challenges to use throughout the game if he/she thinks the umpire made an incorrect call.

For now though, video replay and statistical equipment are allowed during the game but it cannot be used to review or change an umpire's decision.  And the equipment cannot be allowed out on the field except between innings and in designated team areas.  I'm guessing that primarily means the dugout or some other non-dugout location that is not on the field.  Perhaps in the press box or announcer's booth?

I am really excited to see how technology can make fastpitch better and provide a better experience for the fans.  There is a lot riding on some of these softball games, especially with the exploding popularity of the NCAA Women's College World Series.  And even minor incorrect calls can have a huge impact on the game.  Plus everyone at home can see when calls are wrong, so it makes the umpire's mistake that much more painful.

What an exciting time to be a softball fan! Read more.


Gators Grab Back-to-Back National Titles

Florida Wins 2015 WCWS, Second Consecutive NCAA Championship

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
OKLAHOMA CITY  Typical of the immensely popular sporting event it has become, this year’s NCAA Division I Softball Championship got off to a controversial start with the release of its 64-team field and top seeds.

Florida was given the #1 overall seed when it had just been beaten by Tennessee in the Southeastern conference (SEC) tournament.  Then Tennessee was beaten by Auburn.  And even though both teams played better than Florida, Auburn dropped to #4 overall and Tennessee dropped all the way to #8 overall.  That had to be very disappointing for the Tennessee Volunteers.

More than half of the teams (seven) were from the SEC and—this is unheard of—only three were from the renowned Pac-12 conference: Oregon, UCLA and Arizona!  Wow.  But there were still plenty of other Pac-12 teams filling out the Regional brackets, so the conference would have plenty of opportunity to show it was unfairly snubbed.

Most of the top-seeded teams cruised to their first victory in the Regional playoffs, putting up double digits for an easy win.  All but Notre Dame that quickly recorded a loss, falling 6-3 in its opening outing to Ball State.  Yikes.

Oregon was the first team through to the Super Regional after going 3-0.  The Ducks handily beat their opponents by a combined score of 18-4.

The West Kentucky Hilltoppers scored a major upset against #14 overall seed Georgia.  The Hilltoppers hit an RBI double in the 14th inning to score the walk-off run.  What an exciting game!

Fourteen of the 16 top seeds advanced to the Super Regionals.  The two top seeds that were eliminated were #16 Notre Dame and #15 James Madison.  Kentucky defeated Notre Dame to advance, and North Carolina State defeated James Madison to advance.

In the Super Regionals, #3 Michigan appeared poised for a deep run as it engineered a two-game sweep of #14 Georgia to become the first team to advance to the Women’s College World Series (WCWS).

In Game 1 the Wolverines scored a convincing 10-3 victory.  The Michigan offense was electric with a total of 8 hits, 9 RBI and 10 runs scored.  Kelly Christner led the way with 2 hits including a home run and 4 RBI.  Megan Betsa led the way on the mound with 7 innings pitched, 10 strikeouts, 5 hits and 3 earned runs.

In game 2 the Michigan offense again stole the show with 10 hits, 7 runs and 7 RBI.  They were led by home runs from Kelsey Susalia and Haylie Wagner.  Wagner also held it down on the mound with 6 innings pitched, 6 strikeouts, 7 hits and 2 earned runs.

Michigan's offense looked pretty good.  They put up 17 runs in 2 games.  But as good as the offense looked, it's usually not offense that wins the WCWS title.  It's pitching and defense.  I worried about the Wolverines allowing 9 runs in 2 games.  That might be good enough to make it to the big dance, but offense is not going to win it.

As the Super Regional dust cleared, eight teams advanced to the WCWS: five from the SEC, two from the Pac-12, and one from the Big 10.  I guess you cannot call it a surprise, but it still seems odd that only two Pac-12 teams were going to compete for the title.  And over half of the field was from the SEC.  There were no teams from the Big 12.  The Big 10 was the only other conference represented besides Pac-12 and SEC.

Six of the eight Super Regional matchups ended in 2-0 sweeps.  Only Tennessee and Alabama were forced to go to three games to secure their spot in the WCWS.  Tennessee went 3-2, 1-6, and 2-1 against Florida State, and Alabama knocked out Oklahoma with scores of 2-5, 2-0, and 5-3.  Even with the difficulty Tennessee and Alabama had, the top seed was the victor in every single matchup.

Even though it was not technically an upset, Alabama knocking out Oklahoma still felt like an upset to me.  Oklahoma had the nation's #1 power hitter in history with Lauren Chamberlain, and its starting pitcher Paige Parker threw four perfect games this season.  Oklahoma was a really good team and it's very surprising it got knocked out.

I'm also kind of surprised Florida defeated Kentucky so thoroughly.  Kentucky had a chance to play Florida twice during the regular season and did quite well.  Yet it was shut out 7-0 and 1-0 in two games in the Super Regional by Florida.  I expected more out of the Wildcats.

My last surprise was the LSU beat down Arizona so badly.  Arizona was the 3rd ranked team coming out of the Pac-12, yet LSU defeated them 8-0 and 10-5.  I am shocked at how many runs the Tigers hung on the Wildcats.  Arizona is still a pretty elite program with Hall of Fame coach Mike Candrea at the helm.  Very surprising.

If you look at the numbers you'll see it was Oregon that actually had the most dominant play in the Super Regionals after Florida.

Oregon beat North Carolina State 6-1 and 9-3.  And the last two runs in the second game were basically made in garbage time when the Ducks were already up four runs.  And they started their second string pitcher in game 2!  Cheridan Hawkins was easily the MVP for the Ducks in the Super Regional series.  She pitched 9 innings and struck out 20 with only 2 earned runs.  Hawkins was peaking at just the right time and gave Oregon at least as good of a chance to win it all as Florida.

The first day of WCWS competition saw two upsets.  I expected Florida to defeat Tennessee and it did 7-2.  I also expected Michigan to defeat Alabama which it did 5-0.  But I was not expecting LSU to upset Auburn 6-1 or for UCLA to defeat Oregon 7-1.

All the teams making the WCWS are good, so some upsets are to be expected, but LSU and UCLA put exclamation points on their upsets.  Both teams thoroughly defeated their higher-seeded opponents.  I am most surprised that Oregon got defeated so badly.  Oregon even had its ace pitcher Hawkins on the mound.  But she wilted under the pressure of the bright lights and gave up 8 hits and 7 runs in 5.2 innings.  Hawkins is a battle-tested upperclassmen.  It is shocking she would do so poorly in the WCWS.

If there was one pitcher looking like "the one" early on it was Florida's Lauren Haegar.  Haegar won two games right out of the gate in dramatic fashion: in the first she gave up only 2 runs over 7 innings and struck out 4.  In the second she pitched a 7-inning shutout, scattering only 5 hits and striking out 4.

Every year it seems one pitcher catches fire and is instrumental in leading her team to the championship.  At that point no one was pitching like Haegar and, if she could keep it up, Florida would be hard to beat.

Tennessee and Oregon were the first two teams to fall.

I was beyond stunned that Oregon performed so poorly in the WCWS.  The Ducks only lost 7 out of 61 games during the regular season and playoffs.  They topped the Pac-12 and looked dominant during the Regionals and Super Regionals.  Then they got to the big dance and lost two in a row!

The buck stops at the top, so a lot of the blame has to go to ace pitcher Cheridan Hawkins.  She is an upperclassmen and has been to the WCWS before.  She needed to play better to give Oregon a chance.  She laid an egg in game 1 against UCLA by giving up 7 runs.  She did better in game 2 against Alabama and only gave up two runs, but that was not good enough.

Hopefully this really stings Cheridan and she comes back better and stronger for her senior season--maybe enough to lead Oregon to its first national title.

Tennessee's loss was not as surprising.  The Volunteers finished 5th in the Pac-12 and probably out-performed their ability.  They have nothing to be ashamed of with how they ended their season.  They definitely outperformed expectations.

The field was pared down to its Final Four as Auburn defeated UCLA 11-10 in a 10-inning barnburner that featured many dramatic moments including four runs scored in the 7th inning (three by UCLA and one by Auburn) to send the game to extras, a crucial UCLA double play in extra innings that ended the inning, and a dramatic catch of a hard hit ball at the wall by UCLA to save the winning run.

The moments were so dramatic that it made the way the game ended anti-climactic: a walk-off walk by UCLA pitcher Selina Ta'amiko.  She threw a walk with the bases loaded, and with a single pitch ended UCLA's season.

On the other side of the bracket LSU defeated Alabama 5-3.  LSU's MVP of the game was sophomore outfielder Bailey Landry who had two timely base hits that knocked in two runs and led to Bailey herself scoring as well.  Baily was responsible for three runs, which was equal to as many runs as Alabama scored the entire game.

It's amazing there were no Pac-12 teams in the Final Four.  Three of the four were from the SEC and one was from Big 10.  The two Pac-12 teams in the eight-team WCWS field were among the first eliminated!  Crazy.

Lauren Haeger continued her fantastic 2015 playoff campaign in her opener against Auburn with 9 innings pitched, 6 strikeouts and only 2 earned runs.  The only problem was that she had thrown 24 innings in the past three days (including 160 pitches in the opener), so she was understandably not 100% on her game.  Fortunately for the Gaters, however, Auburn didn't take advantage of all the pitches Haeger left out over the heart of the plate.

As far as the other two teams, Michigan was going to be tough to beat.  The Wolverines had been quietly dominant throughout the WCWS, scoring at least five runs in every WCWS game and allowing only seven runs over three games.

The WCWS final series pitted Florida against Michigan for the right to claim the championship for 2015.

The Florida Gators took game 1, defeating the Wolverines 3-2.  With one more victory the Gators would be repeat as NCAA champions.  The scariest part for the Wolverines is that the Gators kept them to only two runs with their 2nd and 3rd string pitchers on the mound.  Both of whom are freshman.

Freshman Alecia Ocasio pitched six innings, scattering 5 hits while striking out 3.  Ocasio's two runs were given up in the 6th inning.  Freshman Delanie Gourley then entered the game in relief for the 7th inning and allowed 1 hit, struck out 1 and recorded the final out to secure the victory.

Lauren Haegar, the team's ace pitcher, was instrumental from the plate this game. She was the team's offensive MVP with a 2-hit, 3-RBI and 1-run performance.

And speaking of Haegar, she would be back on the mound rested and ready for game 2, so Michigan would have to really bring its “A” game to stay alive.  But the Gators had been grinding out victories all postseason, so if anyone still had a shot to take out Florida it was Michigan.

And that’s exactly what happened.  The Wolverines put on a defensive clinic and defeated the Florida Gators to force a game 3.  This entire game was dominated by pitching and defense.  Florida brought back freshly rested National Player of the Year winner Lauren Haeger to the mound to try and close out the series.

Haeger pitched brilliantly, and on most days her performance would have been more than good enough to win.  She pitched six innings, allowed four hits and one earned run.  And while that one run will go down in the record books as an earned run, it was two consecutive misplays by the Florida defense that really allowed the run to score.

But while Haeger was good, Michigan's Haylie Wagner was better. Wagner pitched seven innings and struck out six while allowing five hits.  Most importantly she allowed zero runs.  She and the Michigan defense were outstanding.  For Michigan to defeat Florida it had to be perfect.  Tonight Michigan was perfect.

But it was not enough for the brass ring.

In the third and final game, Florida ace pitcher Lauren Haegar was just too much for the Wolverines.  The senior pitcher put up a very familiar stat line in her last career start for the Florida Gators: 7 innings, 5 hits, 1 earned run and 5 strikeouts.  Haegar was never a strikeout-pitcher; she pitched to contact and let her exceptional defense get outs for her, and she executed this to perfection throughout the postseason.

In addition to her stellar pitching, Haegar also contributed on offense with a hit and an RBI.  Haegar was a force that could not be stopped!!

The rest of the Florida offense was also instrumental in the victory.  They jumped on Michigan ace pitcher Haylie Wagner early and put up 4 runs in the first two innings.  Wagner was pulled after the 2nd inning and Haegar and the Florida defense were able to hold serve for the remaining 5 innings to secure the victory.

This is the 2nd straight national title for Florida.  The Gators may just be the next great dynasty in college softball equal to the likes of Arizona, UCLA and other greats before them.  The Florida Gator's back-to-back championships is the first time a team from a conference other than the Pac-12 has accomplished this feat.

The Gators win is further proof that the locus of college softball excellence is shifting away from California and moving to the American South. Read more.


Hitting Superstars of Tomorrow 2015

Batters Who Should Make Headlines in the Next Few Years

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
LOMBARD It's that time again! Time to name the top offensive 5 stars to look for in the coming months. The ladies on this list put up monster numbers as underclassmen and are looking to continue improving in 2015. This list will help you figure out who to look for at the top of the box score in the coming years. So without further adieu, here it is!

#1 Sierra Romero - Michigan - Sophomore - Infielder
2014 Stats: .491 average, 18 home runs, 74 runs, 81 hits, 72 RBI

Sierra Romero is a bona fide superstar. She was one of the few hitters in the nation last year to rank nationally both in home runs and batting average.  Romero placed #2 in the nation in batting average and #16 in the nation in home runs. Very few players can hit for average and hit for power, but Romero is a stud at both.  And she still has two more years of eligibility left! The Wolverines were knocked out in the super regional last year, but if Romero can continue to improve and put the team on her shoulders Michigan can easily make it to the WCWS this year. Michigan's future is tied to the production of their young star.

#2 Kasey Cooper - Auburn - Freshman - Infielder
2014 Stats: .418 average, 18 home runs, 70 runs, 74 hits, 77 RBI

Much like Sierra Romero above, Kasey Cooper is one of the few great talents that can hit for average and power. Cooper ranked #9 in the nation last year in batting average, and tied for #16 in the nation in home runs. Auburn does not have a long history of success in softball like other SEC conference programs, but the entire conference has made large steps last year.  Cooper may be a harbinger of the type of talent the SEC is going to command from here on out. Auburn was bounced in the regional last year, but if Cooper ups her game in 2015 the Tigers won't be an easy out in 2015.

#3 Alex Hugo - Georgia - Sophomore - 3B
2014 Stats: .341 average, 25 home runs, 57 runs, 57 hits, 64 RBI

Alex Hugo can straight up CRUSH the ball.  Last year, as a sophomore in a top softball conference (the SEC) in the country, Hugo led the nation in home runs with 25. She also put up a pretty solid batting average and RBI numbers.  Hugo isn't a commanding presence at 5' 8", but she sure can tear the cover off the ball.  Georgia surprised many in the softball world last year when they won the SEC conference. No doubt Hugo's 25 home runs helped Georgia put up numbers in the win column. I can't wait to see how Hugo improves.

#4 Lexie Elkins - Louisiana Lafayette - Sophomore - C
2014 Stats: .388 average, 24 home runs, 41 runs, 73 hits, 74 RBI

I don't know how Louisiana Lafayette does it!  Every year they deliver big time recruits and get them to produce big time numbers. Who ever heard of the Sun Belt Conference? Yet Louisiana Lafayette finds a way to compete with all the best and biggest programs in power conferences like the Pac 12 and SEC. One of their shining stars last year was Lexie Elkins, whose 24 home runs were good enough for #2 in the nation. Those numbers are amazing, but what is even more amazing is is that she produced them as an underclassman. Everyone in Lafayette, LA is hoping Elkins can capitalize on the 2 years of experience now under her belt and put up even better numbers in 2015.  Louisiana Lafayette made the WCWS last year; to make it over the hump and win a title they need Elkins to keep swinging the stick like she did in 2014.

#5 Katiyann Muaga - Arizona - Sophomore - Arizona
2014 Stats: .363 average, 20 home runs, 41 runs, 53 hits, 58 RBI

Arizona is one of the most storied teams in NCAA softball. Yet the team has underperformed and not lived up to expectations in recent years.  Arizona has not legitimately competed for a title in several years and being bounced from the super regional by Louisiana Lafayette last year doesn't help. And, perhaps even worse, in state rival Arizona State has won two titles in the past 7 years. If Arizona wants to return to the promise land Arizona needs more players like Muaga, who ranked 6th in the nation in home runs last year, to help lead them back to prominence. Arizona has great name recognition in the softball world, hopefully they can use Muaga to market an Arizona renaissance to new recruits and help improve the team.

There you have it!  Look for big things from these 5 ladies in 2015! Read more.

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