There are the names that everyone knows, and then there are the names that slip through the cracks.
The latter, more often than not, are the most dangerous.
College softball has its share of juggernaut programs and blue-blooded schools, not unlike any other sport, with talented teams that fans flock to when they race to the top echelons of the sport and bring trophies to their hometowns.
2023 Puerto Vallarta College Challenge
But every year, names pop up that aren’t usually part of the silverware conversation, yet they have production on their rosters that helps them keep up with the notable names in the sport.
For the fast approaching 2023 season, several programs made waves a season ago and are now returning many of the difference makers that made them so good in the first place, creating a possibly potent combination that could lock them in the middle of a deep post-season run.
And, if one of those same underdogs ends up taking down a Blue Blood in an elimination game, then everyone will know their name.
Here’s a look at five dark-horse softball schedules to watch during the 2023 season, with games streamed year-round on FloSoftball.
Wichita state shock
The weak point: When one team’s clubs overheat, the opposing pitching personnel are left essentially powerless to stop it.
At Wichita State last season, that happened a lot.
Apparently the Shockers offense couldn’t fare much better than in 2021, when it broke a load of single-season schedule records en route to a sweep of the American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships, but the maximum by coach Kristi Bredbenner the octane unit has gone up a notch in 2022.
The team topped many of those same marks, including batting average (.348), slugging percentage (.667), home runs (121), and RBI (387).
keep doing it, @sydneyrmckinney! https://t.co/MXz8vyHEqJ
— USA Softball Women’s National Team (@USASoftballWNT) January 12, 2023
Two Shockers were vital to those numbers: defending NCAA batting champion Sydney McKinney (. 522 average) and powerhouse junior outfielder Addison Barnard (33 home runs, 84 RBI). The pair, along with 12 other letter winners from back-to-back NCAA Tournament qualifiers, return to the diamond for 2023.
Pitching has held Wichita State back at times, as a 4.15 team ERA and .269 opponent batting average were just OK numbers a year ago, but moves have been made to improve the rotation — like adding the Arkansas transfer Lauren Howell — and help give the lineup loads the support it needs for a deep postseason run.
And, with 12 NCAA Tournament entrants from 2022 on the 2023 schedule, Wichita State will quickly find out how it stacks up.
Old Miss Rebels
The low point: If one thing is certain about Jamie Trachsel-led programs, it’s that they get things done.
Her only season at Iowa State in 2017 saw the Cyclones achieve their best Big 12 finish in over two decades, while by her sophomore season at Minnesota in 2019, she was leading the Golden Gophers to their first Women’s College World Series.
After a 41-win season in his second campaign at Oxford last year, Trachsel could have Ole Miss poised to make a surge to the top of the Southeastern Conference and, therefore, the top tier of teams in the country.
— Ole Miss Softball (@OleMissSoftball) January 2, 2023
The Rebels started a season ago an all-time best 21-4 and could be poised for a similar start this time around, especially considering left fielder and leading hitter Tate Whitley (.387 average) is back at the fold.
But the transfer portal is where Ole Miss has made the most noise and could give the Rebels the seasoned bits they need to make it through the Super Regional round for the first time in school history.
Alabama transfer Jenna Lord started 30 games for the elite Crimson Tide as a freshman last year, while Oregon transfer Makenna Kliethermes has two years of eligibility left after going 11-7 with a 3.65 ERA in the 2022.
But no addition to the Portal could be more crucial than the transfer of Marshall and reigning All-American Mya Stevenson, who departed as the Thundering Herd’s all-time home run leader. She blew 19 long bombs last year, while she hit .806, to give the Rebels the power they badly needed (.439 team hit percentage in 2022) to stay in the top tier of SEC teams.
Northern South Carolina Spartans
Truth: The top 7 batters and one of the aces come back from a team that won 48 games last year. What’s wrong?
Well, in Upstate’s case, most would point to the competition it plays (in the Big South Conference) and the fact that it didn’t win the conference tournament last season, which denied the Spartans a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament and show really their prowess against a heavy schedule.
But, 48 wins is 48 wins no matter how you slice it, and considering Upstate has a core determined to erase last year’s late anguish, put the stock in the Spartans to be one of the deadliest midsize teams in the nation.
Upstate softball is picked first in the Big South’s annual preseason poll along with a preseason player of the year honor courtesy of 2022 Big South player of the year Peyton Darnell.
| https://t.co/qwyLcHhqMT#Spartan Army
— USC Upstate Softball (@UpstateSoftball) January 25, 2023
Senior catcher/designated player Peyton Darnell (.329 average, 15 home runs, 62 RBI) returns to the diamond as the reigning Big South Player of the Year, joining several teammates, including outfielder Summer Johnson (. 416) and Tiffany Domingue (.356 average), as previous first-team All-Big South candidates.
Right hander Alyssa Kelly (17-3, 1.70 ERA, 124 strikeouts on 21 walks in 2022) is a great return pitcher to have on the mound following Hannah Houge’s graduation, but getting the job done as a whole and proving it 2022 was no fluke in Spartanburg will be of paramount importance to Upstate if it is to be considered an under-the-radar threat in the 2023 postseason.
The Weak Spot: One of the newer Division I softball programs (beginning play in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season), Clemson, due to its literal lack of history and extensive softball pedigree, isn’t generally considered a powerful program in sports.
But if the Tigers continue on their current trajectory, it will only be a matter of time before they are considered part of that category.
Head coach John Rittman’s team proved that its program’s Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title in 2021 wasn’t just a flash in the pan, as Clemson made the Super Regional round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time on last year, earning the overall No. 10 seed in the event and hosting (and winning) a regional, before bowing to mighty Oklahoma State.
ACC’s best pitching staff (1.81 team ERA) in 2022, led by past ACC Player of the Year and two-way superstar Valerie Cagle – 53-22, 2.08 ERA in her career at the mound, plus a .357 average , 40 home runs and 125 RBI in his career at the plate – Clemson almost immediately pitched to the same level as other longtime powerhouses in the ACC (such as Florida State and Virginia Tech) in a fraction of the time.
Whether those accolades are here to stay is something only time will determine, but whether the Tigers utilize talent like Cagle and young McKenzie Clark (.328 average, .624 hits) and Alia Logoleo (15 home runs, 46 RBI) in the way Righteous, be warned: Clemson could be headed to Oklahoma City in a few months.
Miami (Ohio) RedHawks
The sweet spot: After 40 consecutive win seasons and 60 total Mid-American Conference wins in the past two years, what’s next for Miami (Ohio) softball?
Well, if the defending national champions are not only scheduled to face you, but are also going to your ballpark in mid-April to do so, yes, it’s safe to say that the RedHawks are thinking much bigger than just making it to the NCAA Tournament.
A lot of positive momentum has been built at Oxford recently, as Miami’s back-to-back postseason appearances are its first back-to-back trips in program history, but entering 2023, he has the personnel that could finally give him the edge he has. need to go beyond the regional group for the first time.
That personal starts with young Karli Spaid, who is coming off a season in which she blasted a ridiculous 28 homers with 70 RBI and .931 slugging percentage. She was named the first All-American in RedHawks softball history, all while batting over .400 for the second consecutive season to solidify her status as one of the most dangerous power hitters in the country.
The accolades keep coming @KarliSpaid She was named to the Top 50 Watchlist for Collegiate Player of the Year!
— Miami Softball (@MiamiOH_SB) January 25, 2023
While Spaid will be very important to Miami’s success, the complementary pieces around her will be what really gets the RedHawks vibrating.
Former Ole Miss and Virginia Tech player Maddi Banks will add some senior level experience as a portal addition, while second baseman Chloe Parks brings a youthful edge to the lineup as one of the top freshmen in the MAC with a . .348 in 2022, to help give Miami edge over Spaid.
They’ll need it in non-conference play, especially when three-tournament chasing Oklahoma hits town on April 16 for a one-time meetup that will likely tell the RedHawks exactly how talented they are this season.