Getting Ready for 2014 Softball

Alabama College Softball

Getting Ready for 2014 Softball

For some it will be their first season of college softball. For others, it will be their last season of college softball. At any rate, it will be a season of anticipation, hopes and desires for the thousands of athletes who will play college softball in 2014. 

Some will make it their best season of college softball while others, although hopeful at the start, will fail and end up with a season of frustration for whatever reason or reasons. And, of course, untimely injuries or slumps on offense and defense will all add to their dismay.

It's a long season culminating with the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City, May 28th through June 4th, and every season has its share of question marks before the season starts. For example, will the University of Oklahoma become the first team since Arizona (2006-2007) to win back to back titles? Will UCLA be one of the eight teams in Oklahoma for the WCWS after having not qualified since winning it all in 2010? Will Arizona also be one of the final eight in OKC after being runner-up in 2010? And will Tennessee, which lost to OU in last year's best-of-three series, finally break through and win its first NCAA Division I national title? These questions and who knows how many more will be answered in the next six months as teams begin another season of college softball.

OU, which won its second national title after finishing runner-up to Alabama in 2012, was ranked second in the first NFCA poll, and return seven starters. But the Sooners have some question marks in the pitching department if they are to succeed in 2014. Standout hurlers Keilani Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne, who formed the nation's top one-two punch from the circle a year ago, have graduated, leaving the pitching to a number of players including Georgia Casey, Taylor Dewberry, Maggie Ham (transfer from Butler CC), Leslie Miller and Stanford transfer Kelsey Stevens. How fast this group develops will go a long ways in determining what kind of year the Sooners will have. OU was the pre-season pick to repeat as Big 12 champs.

While OU enjoyed its most successful season in 2013, going 57-4, eight-time national champion Arizona had its worst season in the career of head coach Mike Candrea. The Wildcats recorded a 33-26 won-loss record and were not even ranked in the first NFCA poll, which has rarely happened in Candrea's career. Mike begins his 29th season and has a veteran team including five pitchers headed by ace Kenzie Fowler who redshirted in 2013 for back surgery and is hoping to regain the form that made her one of the nation's top pitchers in the first two years of her college career. She already has 79 wins and ranks sixth in Arizona history. Candrea is not one to back away from a challenge and this season will be a challenge to improve on last year.

UCLA's Bruins, who in the early 80's and 90's vied with the Wildcats for national softball supremacy, will be looking to return to OKC after winning it all in 2010. It's been rare that neither the Wildcats and Bruins haven't been in OKC and neither school wants to continue that streak of not being in the top eight. The Bruins compiled a 40-20 record in 2013 and recently announced the signing of four outstanding prep standouts, giving the Bruins the No. 1 recruiting class for 2014-15 according to Student Sports.

While the Bruins are hoping to regain the habit of returning to OKC, Tennessee hasn't had a problem getting to OKC, having been there six times in the last nine years Yet, the Lady Vols have come away empty handed, finishing runner-up twice (2007 and 2013). The Lady Vols want to finish this season where they started it by being ranked No. 1. Coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly have a veteran-tested team and numerous softball analysts ranked the Lady Vols No. 1 for 2014 after their impressive performance against an Oklahoma team that ranked with the best teams of all-time in college softball.

The No. 1 ranking caught Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly off guard. “To be honest, it kind of surprised me. We lost six seniors. We also lost Tory Lewis (medical reasons),” said Weekly, who, along with his wife, Karen, has made the Lady Vols one of the top ten programs in the nation since arriving in Knoxville. The year before (2001) Ralph and Karen arrived the Lady Vols had a 24-35 win-loss record. Since then, everything has been on the upswing with the Lady Vols being a consistent top ten team as they strive to get to the top of the college softball world. 

Ralph and Karen would like nothing better to finish the season where they began it, but as we all know a lot can happen…and usually does… in between the start and end of the college softball. That's what makes college softball such a fantastic sport for the thousands of loyal softball fans who follow their teams year in and year out, hoping their team can either win a conference or league championship, qualify for the NCAA tournament or even better—win the 2014 NCAA Division I national title.