Friday, January 17, 2014

2014 “Best of the Rest” Teams to Watch

Team: Hofstra Pride
Location: Hempstead, New York
Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)
2013 Finish:
Conference champs; eliminated in NCAA Columbia Regional
     (Over the past few years, the Hofstra Pride have come close to Oklahoma City several times, but have fallen just short of that goal. Now-graduated Olivia Galati was a HUGE part of that success, so her absence will have to be accounted for if the Pride are to challenge for a coveted spot in OKC. That’s no easy task, but if anybody can do it, it’s probably Bill Edwards.)

Team: James Madison Dukes
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)
2013 Finish:
Conference runner-up; eliminated in NCAA Knoxville Regional
     (The Dukes are coming off of back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, including the CAA’s first-ever at-large bid to the tournament. Jailyn Ford, who you’ll read more about in the player's feature, is a dynamite hurler, and I expect the Dukes to keep moving up over the next few years. Depending on what regional they end up being placed at, this could be the year the Dukes challenge for a Super Regional spot.)

Team: Buffalo Bulls
Buffalo, NY
Mid-American Conference (MAC)
2013 Finish:
16-32, 6-14 in conference
     (As soon as Trena Peel took over as HC in Buffalo, I knew it was only a matter of time before the Bulls were challenging for the division crown. Then she brought Horace Smith over from her previous job at Hampton, and added former Tulsa star Lacey Middlebrooks to her staff. An all-star coaching staff doesn’t necessarily equal an all-star team, but I think it will in this case. Keep an eye on the Bulls; I think they stand a legitimate shot to challenge for the conference crown.)

Team: Northwestern State Demons
Location: Natchitoches, Louisiana

Conference: Southland
2013 Finish: Conference champs; eliminated in NCAA Baton Rouge Regional

     (The Demons hosted the conference tournament season and took home the crown, advancing to the NCAA tournament for the first time in more than a decade. The coaching staff is a Who’s Who of former collegiate stars; Natalie Landry was a great spark plug for the Demons last season, and even as just a sophomore this year, she’ll be an offensive leader for the team. I think Donald Pickett’s team stands a legitimate shot at back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances.)

Team: Utah State Aggies
Location: Logan, Utah
Conference: Mountain West
2013 Finish: 11-43, 5-16 in conference
     (When Steve Johnson was at Auburn as assistant coach under Tina Deese, it was only a matter of time before he got his own head coaching position. That position came in Logan, and I expect him to turn around a floundering Aggie program. Even with a man of Johnson's softball smarts and an assistant coach from the uber-talented Schroeder family, it does take a while to turn around a program so drastically (in other words, you can expect to see the Aggies on this list next year, as well), but the USU Aggies are definitely worth keeping an eye on immediately.)

Team: Wichita State Shockers
Location: Wichita, Kansas
Conference: Missouri Valley Conference
2013 Finish: 19-33, eliminated in 1st round of conference tournament
     (I had the first-hand opportunity to see the Shockers play last season, and I like what I saw. Despite their record at season's end, it seems like the Shockers are on their way up. Their senior class this season includes southpaw hurler Sloan Anderson and infielder Ali Vandever. Both are excellent players, and I think both will have the opportunity to shine this season. Vandever should be given some consideration as an undrafted free agent if she's willing to play pro ball. Anderson could receive a few looks as well, and I think she's a quality starter. I think it's a fair estimate to see the Shockers at .500 and in the conference tournament a bit longer this season.)

1 comment:

  1. I understand that Akron has traded up in the draft. Will they be the overall #2 or #3 pick? Does this change any of your projections?