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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Big 12 Conference Forecast

Team that might surprise us all: Baylor Bears
     (The Bears have been among the game's elite the last several years, including an appearance in the Women's College World Series in 2014. After losing to host Louisiana-Lafayette in the regional final last year, the Bears lost star seniors Kaitlyn Thumann and Jordan Strickland. Both will leave holes to fill, but Shelby Friudenberg enjoyed a stellar breakout campaign in her freshman season (.357/18/46 and .752 SLG%) and Kelsee Selman, the transfer from LSU who will be eligible to play right away, provides excellent depth behind Heather Stearns in the circle. I think the Bears are in a prime position to return to OKC.)

Team that might disappoint us all: Oklahoma Sooners
     (Lauren Chamberlain and Shelby Pendley have graduated. Need more be said? The duo were not only two of the most popular and polarizing players in the nation, they were incredible team leaders and offensive studs. Lost amongst the power numbers was Chamberlain's .395 career batting average and .988 fielding percentage at first base, as well as Pendley's .400 batting average since she came to OU and her top-eleven positions in three categories of the NCAA's offensive record books. That kind of production and impact is impossible to replace and tough to make up for and their absence takes the Sooners down a notch on the postseason impact meter.)

Player of the Year: Shelby Friudenberg, Baylor
Pitcher of the Year: Paige Parker, Oklahoma
Coach of the Year: Glenn Moore, Baylor

Conference Champs: Baylor Bears
Top WCWS Contender: Baylor Bears
     (The Bears' makeup is excellent in many capacities this season and they stand a very legitimate chance of returning to Oklahoma City.)

Players to Watch:
·    --> Kelsee Selman, Baylor - The former LSU hurler transferred to the Bears in the offseason and will be eligible to play immediately. While senior Heather Stearns is the undoubted ace of the Baylor staff, Selman will provide a nice compliment and the back end of an effective 1-2 punch. She figures to get plenty more than the fifteen appearances and fifty-seven innings she amassed at LSU last season as the #4 member of that staff.
·    --> Sydney Romero, Oklahoma - Rarely in this space do I talk about freshmen who haven't had a chance to prove themselves against in-season competition. I made an exception for Sydney Romero because that's the kind of difference-maker I believe she can be. The younger sister of Michigan senior superstar Sierra, Sydney impressed in the fall season and she has the potential to be a quality infielder and help make up for the afore-mentioned losses of Pendley and Chamberlain.
·    --> Tiffany Mikkelson, Oklahoma State 'A career year' indeed described Mikkelson's 2015 season, when she hit .361/13/46 with a slugging percentage of .722. She finished in the conference's top-ten in five categories, including total bases and on-base percentage, as well as walks, RBI, and slugging percentage. Under a new coaching regime and in her swan song season, Mikkelson's game-changing capabilities will come in handy for Kenny Gajewski and I figure her to have another heavy-hitting season and a repeat of all-conference and all-region honors after the campaign's completion.

Biggest Question:
* How will the Sooners replace team leaders and all-time-great sluggers Lauren Chamberlain and Shelby Pendley?
* Will we see just how much John Rittman's influence had on the Kansas Jayhawks' success last season now that he has moved on to other endeavors?
* Under the new leadership of Kenny Gajewski, will Oklahoma State return to relevance in the conference and nationally?

Top Seniors:
P – Heather Stearns, Baylor; Kelsey Stevens, Oklahoma
IF – Tiffany Mikkelson, Oklahoma State; Chaley Brickey, Kansas
OF - Linsey Hays, Baylor; Erin Miller, Oklahoma; Kady Self, Oklahoma; Briana Evans, Kansas; Lindsey Stephens, Texas; Jordan Bettiol, Nebraska; Brittany Gomez, Iowa State

Conference Projection:
1. Baylor Bears
2. Oklahoma Sooners
3. Oklahoma State Cowgirls
4. Kansas Jayhawks
5. Texas Tech Red Raiders
6. Texas Longhorns
7. Iowa State Cyclones

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