Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2014 PAC-12 Conference Forecast

Team that might surprise us all: Oregon Ducks

     (Despite a surprising loss to Nebraska in the Super Regionals last season, the Ducks are still one of the best teams in the nation, and I believe all the pieces are in place for them to shine. Some may wonder if the recent years of dominance may be coming to a close, allowing the more traditional conference powers of UCLA, ASU, etc. to battle for the conference crown, as well, but I don't think I've ever liked an Oregon team as much as this year's. Despite the loss of All-American stud Jessica Moore, the Ducks' pitching staff is solid with sophomore Cheridan Hawkins as the ace and Karissa Hovinga as the more-than-capable #2 hurler. On offense, Kailee Cuico is a great slugging first-baseman and could end up as a prospect for the NPF draft. Courtney Ceo and Alexa Peterson are both listed by in the top twenty senior players this season, and with good reason. Both are stellar offensively and solid on the defensive side. Perhaps the biggest addition of all for the Ducks was not on the field, but in the dugout. Mike White pulled Jimmy Kolaitis from South Alabama in July, and when you are able to add one of the best coaches in the nation to your staff, you're going to do great things.) 

Team that might disappoint us all: Washington Huskies
     (I was pleasantly surprised to see the Huskies in Oklahoma City last season, especially as it put the pitching talents of Kaitlin Inglesby on National display, but I don't believe there will be a repeat of that this season. There weren't any substantial changes this offseason, minus a few transfers (such as Jocelyn Cater to Syracause), but in large part, the 2013 squad is still intact. I think the Huskies will certainly contend for the conference title, but I don't think a run to OK City is in the cards for the swan song of a star-studded senior class, one that includes All-American Inglesby; first-team all-conference Hooch Fagaly; Canadian National teamer Victoria Hayward; and stud hurler Bryana Walker.)

Player of the Year: Cheyenne Coyle, Arizona State
Pitcher of the Year: Kaitlin Inglesby, Washington
Coach of the Year: Mike White, Oregon

Conference Champs: Oregon Ducks

Players to Watch:
Cheridan Hawkins, Oregon - When Keilani Ricketts and the US National team parted ways, Hawkins (only 19 at the time) was chosen to fill that hole in Team USA's rotation. She performed well, and now she gets to head back to Eugene as the ace of the Ducks' pitching staff following the graduation of Jess Moore. As a true freshman going up against Pac-12 competition, Hawkins performed stellarly. She posted a 1.55 ERA in just over 140 innings, and limited opponents to a very impressive .130 batting average. Across the board, her stats seem to be those of a seasoned veteran rather than a true freshman in her first season as a collegiate athlete, but now with a full season under her belt, plus the International experience she gained last summer, don't be surprised if there's an All-American nod in Hawkins' near future.

Victoria Hayward, Washington - I struggle to see why Hayward hasn't received more postseason awards than a simple all-conference selection; she is one of the best outfielders in the game. A longtime member of the Canadian National squad, Hayward will be a high NPF draft choice if she chooses not to continue her International career this summer. She's put up insanely-good statistics throughout her career, whether in non-conference play, conference play, or the postseason. With her final season upon her, it may just be time for Victoria to take home some serious hardware - she's certainly earned it.

Mackenzie Popescue, Arizona State - Unknown to many thanks to playing behind Dallas Escobedo, Popescue is one of the least-heralded yet most-talented pitchers in the country. Her 2013 season was her best yet, as she limited opponents to a .220 batting average and posted a sub-2.00 ERA. She's thrown a no-hitter every season since 2011; my OCD enjoys streaks continuing, so I'll definitely be looking to see if she is able to put her name into the record books again this season. I could definitely envision a 2013 Michelle Gascoigne/Keilani Ricketts pairing for Craig Nicholson's staff this year.

Kenzie Fowler, Arizona - Fowler was one of the best pitchers in the country her first couple of seasons, with two All-American nods in her first two seasons, but 2012 and 2013 were neither kind to her. A respectable 2012 season was followed by back surgery that caused her to redshirt 2013 as she recovered. It will be interesting to see if the redshirt senior returns to her 2010/2011 form and ends her career on a spectacularly-high note, or if she, along with the Wildcats, remains somewhat irrelevant on the national scene.

Conference Projection:
1. Oregon
2. Arizona State
3. Washington
4. Cal
6. Oregon State
7. Arizona

8. Stanford

1 comment:

  1. top-to-bottom still best conference in the land...i pick BRUINS to win the pac 12....and a whole lot more....agree with most of justin's predictions but with so much talent tough to handicap.