Team that will surprise: Arizona
Mike Candrea's squad lost virtually their entire pitching staff, but suffered minimally on the offensive side of the ball. Hurler Danielle O'Toole transferred in from San Diego State, and while she's yet-unproven against PAC competition, numbers even a bit inflated from her SDSU stats will still be considered excellent. Hallie Wilson; Kellie Fox; Katiyana Mauga; Chelsea Goodacre; and Mo Mercado, all of whom posted .300+ batting averages and double-digit home run totals in 2014, return, leaving the offense at a top-of-the-heap level.
Team that will disappoint: Washington
Heather Tarr's Huskies lost many of their top talents to graduation after last season. Kaitlin Inglesby and Victoria Hayward are the most recognizable names that will no longer be taking the field for the Huskies. With three All-American honors and numerous all-conference nods to their credit, the duo will be sorely missed in Seattle. Bryana Walker (Inglesby's counterpart in the circle), Hooch Fagaly, and Whitney Jones all leave large holes in the lineup that must be filled. Courtney Gano looks to return after an injury-plagued two seasons, and the additions of ex-Mizzou Tiger Casey Stangel and a talented freshman class will help, but I don't expect the Huskies to be serious contenders in the conference or the postseason.
Player of the Year: Ally Carda, UCLA
Pitcher of the Year: Cheridan Hawkins, Oregon
Coach of the Year: Mike White, Oregon
Conference Champs: Oregon
Top WCWS Contender: Oregon
(As the Ducks are my pick to take home the national title, it’s only logical that I give them the best odds to reach Oklahoma City. UCLA and ASU are also even-money bets.)
Players to Watch:
- Kelsey Kessler, Arizona State/Hailey Decker & Geri Ann Glasco, Oregon/Casey Stangel, Washington/Danielle O’Toole, Arizona – This may be the largest number of all-star transfers into a single conference in one offseason that I have ever seen! The best softball conference in the country only got better when each of these young women transferred. Kettler will help fill a big hole left by Dallas Escobedo in Tempe; Decker and Glasco will provide a lot of pop to an already-potent offense; Stangel, as mentioned above, will have to go to work from day one, but should prove vital to the Huskies; whether or not moving to the PAC-12 was a good thing for her career remains to be seen, but O'Toole should put together a respectable year at the very worst and be a workhorse for the Wildcats in the circle.
- Stephany LaRosa, UCLA – An all-American in her freshman campaign, LaRosa fell a bit (in the broadest sense; she still earned all-conference & all-region honors) in 2013, but rebounded nicely in 2014 to again regain her spot on the All-American list. Arguably the top backstop available as a pro prospect this year, she may be a solid bet for an NPF team in need of help and/or depth behind the plate.
- Kylee Lahners, Washington – Specifically not mentioned in the Washington paragraph above, Lahners is, without a doubt, the best athlete in the Huskie softball complex on pretty much any given day. A three-time all-conference selection, Lahners did earn her first all-American honors a year or so ago. Keep a steady eye on her, and don't blink, or you may miss another bomb over the fence.
- Chelsea Goodacre, Arizona – Goodacre has smashed forty-five home runs in three seasons, with 2014 holding a career-best twenty-two roundtrippers. A two-time member of the all-conference squad and a former Team USA member, Goodacre could be a dark horse candidate for Player of the Year honors, but, barring injury, she should be a shoo-in for first-team all-conference recognition.
- Kate Dickman, Utah - An all-conference selection in each of her first three seasons, Dickman has steadily and consistently improved her statistics year-to-year. With a batting average up 130 points since her freshman campaign and her slugging percentage & OBP rising year to year, this could be Dickman's season; a breakout campaign would certainly put her into the POTY mix.
P – Karissa Hovinga, Oregon
C – Chelsea Goodacre, Arizona; Stephany LaRosa, UCLA; Amber Freeman, Arizona State
IF – Hallie Wilson, Arizona; Kellie Fox, Arizona; Haley Steele, Arizona State; Britt Vonk, Cal; Cheynne Cordes, Cal; Erin Ashby, Stanford
OF – Janie Takeda, Oregon; Kate Dickman, Utah; Kori Nishitomi, Oregon State; Dani Gilmore, Oregon State; Elizabeth Caporuscio, Arizona State; Leah White, Stanford
UT – Ally Carda, UCLA; Breana Kostreba, Cal; Kylee Lahners, Washington
Conference Projection (2014 finish in parentheses):
1. Oregon (1)
2. UCLA (2)
3. Arizona (5)
4. Arizona State (3)
5. Washington (4)
6. Stanford (8)
7. Utah (6)8. Oregon State (7)