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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015: In Preview

The 2015 season is right around the corner. From the first week of February when the collegiate season kicks off to the late months of summer and the NPF Championship, softball teams, players, and fans are getting ready for the real Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
Today, we look ahead to 2015 and some of the stories and headlines we’ll be keeping an eye on, and questions we’ll be looking to be answered.

1.   Will Lauren Chamberlain set a new career home run record?
“OU’s star senior slugger has one more season to reach the NCAA record of 92 career home runs. After an injury-plagued 2014 that only let her hit twelve round-trippers, she now sits eighteen away from Stacey Nuveman’s record number. For a player that knocked 30 home runs in each of her first two seasons, eighteen is no extremely-difficult  feat, provided she can put together fully-healthy campaign.”

2.   Is Team USA losing its star power?
“The new era of Team USA has certainly lost some of the popularity and fan support that followed the Olympic teams of the early 2000s, but not nearly as much of the blame can be placed on the fans as the USA hierarchy would have you believe. While great players like Lauren Gibson, Lauren Chamberlain, and Raven Chavanne are all practically assured spots on the squad (despite having to go through the formality of tryout camp), but with Val Arioto and Jackie Traina both signing professional contracts to play in Japan this season, it will be interesting to see if the US national team is set to lose two more a-list stars from the roster.

3.   Will Mike White finally lead Oregon to a title?
“For several years now, White’s Ducks have begun the season as preseason virtual assurances to make it to the WCWS. Despite appearing in Oklahoma City two of the past three years, the Ducks have yet to appear in the championship series. With talent like Cheridan Hawkins and Janie Takeda already on the roster and big-time transfers Hailey Decker and Geri Ann Glasco, could this be the year that White’s squad takes home the hardware on OKC?

4.   Can the USSSA Pride make it three in a row?
“The USSSA Pride have taken home two NPF championships in a row. Riding the arm of Cat Osterman and the bats of some of the greatest players to ever play the game, they enter 2015 looking to make it three in a row, and as the odds-on preseason favorites. With a monopoly on picks in the first-year player draft in the spring and a lineup and bench already bursting with talent, they show no signs of slowing down now.
5.   Who will Duke hire as their head coach?

“The Duke Blue Devils are set to add softball to their sports repertoire in 2018, and could be looking to hire a head coach as early as Fall 2015. Many candidates across the country could fit the bill, and with a school as rich in sports greatness as Duke, it will be interesting to see who is tabbed to lead the inaugural Duke softball team.

6.   What long-time assistant will best set themselves up for a head coaching job?
“Gerry Glasco is in his first season at Texas A&M. Jimmy Kolaitis, his 2nd at Oregon. Both are widely expected to become head coaches at some point, and it seems to be just a matter of “when” and “where”.

7.   How will Montana fare in the first year of their program?
“Head coach Jamie Pinkerton has been waiting for this season for two years. The Montana Grizzlies will kick off their first-ever softball season Las Cruces, New Mexico on February 5th, and have high goals set for their inaugural campaign. Even though many East coast and SEC fans won’t give the Griz much of a look, it’s a team worth keeping an eye on.

8.   How big of an impact will Rick Pauly have on the UGA pitching staff?
“Rick Pauly had every intention of retiring and heading home to a much quieter life in Virginia. The longtime pitching coach announced before the season that it would be his last, and when his USC-Upstate squad was defeated in the regional round, he planned to head home for good. Until Lu Harris-Champer came calling, that is. Pauly is now the new pitching coach at Georgia and gets to tutor the already-great Chelsea Wilkinson even better. She showed serious talent last year, and under Pauly’s tutelage will likely only get better.

9.   Will softball get back into the Olympics?

“Possibly the biggest story of the coming year, we saved until last to mention. With the 2020 Olympic games being hosted in Tokyo, Japan, there is serious speculation that the sport could be added back in time for those Games. June 2015 should tell us whether a return to the Olympic-level is in sight.

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