What teams were right outside our initial Top 25 rankings for 2024? Who are the mid-majors that could make a splash throughout the season? Find out below:
Arizona not being in the Top 25 or the NCAA Tournament is certainly uncharted territory for the Wildcats. Caitlin Lowe made changes to her staff with the additions of Christian Conrad and Josh Bloomer in hopes of getting things back on track. The Arizona offense will be its strength once again with Allie Skaggs leading the way after another terrific campaign last season. Carlie Scupin will need to stay healthy to bring her natural power alongside Olivia DiNardo and Dakota Kennedy who will try to build upon their freshman seasons. Conrad, who comes in from LMU, will have his hands full trying to get the pitching staff back to a competitive place. Arizona doesn’t lack talent in the circle with Devyn Netz, and highly touted younglings Aissa Silva, Sydney Somerndike and Ryan Maddox, but they need better results to get back to Arizona’s brand of softball.
The Golden Bears took a big step forward last season reaching the postseason for the first time since Chelsea Spencer took the reigns. Can they carry that momentum into the 2024 season? Spencer hired Danielle O’Toole-Trejo as the team’s new pitching coach. She’ll oversee a veteran staff that includes Haylei Archer, Annabel Teperson and Anna Reimers as well as exciting newcomers Ryann Orange and Randi Roelling. Cal will need a few hitters to step up following the gradations of Makenna Smith and Kacey Zobac. Cal’s ceiling will be dependent on the progressions of players like Acacia Anders and Elon Butler who can complement Tatum Anzaldo.
After being at the forefront of the Conference USA battle last season, it doesn’t get much easier for Charlotte joining the American Conference alongside a group of their old friends. Sam Gress carried the load in the circle and rightfully so. The NC State transfer tossed 227 innings which included winning outings against Georgia, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Arizona State, North Carolina and more. Don’t be surprised if she has fewer innings this season as Charlotte has options such as Lena Elkins, Georgeanna Barefoot and South Carolina transfer Leah Powell. Bailey Vannoy and Kassidy Krupit both graduated, so replacing that production in the lineup won’t be easy. Ella Chancey has proven she can be a powerful bat and can spearhead the offense.
The Wildcats are always in the mix regarding the Top 25. Erin Coffel and Stephanie Schoonover headline the Kentucky roster. Coffel has been an incredible hitter since she arrived in Lexington, and had it not been for the astronomical seasons from Tennessee’s Kiki Milloy and Florida’s Skylar Wallace, she would’ve been firmly in the mix for SEC Player of the Year after 19 home runs, nation-leading 64 walks and .976 slugging percentage. Meanwhile, Schoonover was arguably pitching as well as anyone to open last season before her injury. Kentucky should be able to rely on those two, but how the rest of the roster fills out around them is the biggest question heading into the season.
The Flames won’t have Karlie Keeney and Caroline Wang (formerly Hudson) this season as the pair decided to face off against one another in Bedlam Rivalry. Dot Richardson is confident others will step into those star roles as Liberty enters its first season in Conference USA. Rachel Roupe has the easiest path to stardom based on Richardson’s assessment this fall. The junior outfielder is a walking web gem and saw her average rise last season while hitting 15 home runs. Despite losing the team’s workhorse in Keeney, Richardson is excited about the pitching depth and the ability to give teams different looks outside of what they had last season in Keeney and Paige Bachman.
The Redhawks are always going to hit, especially with Karili Spaid leading the way. The third baseman already has Miami’s career records in home runs (67), RBI (180) and batting average (.391). Miami also returns most of its power including reigning MAC Player of the Year Jenna Golembiewski (17 home runs), Allie Cummins (17) and Holly Blaska (11). The biggest question mark is in the circle after workhorse Brianna Pratt graduated. However, head coach Kirin Kumar added experienced Power Five arms Addy Jarvis (Illinois) and Ashley Hitchcock (Rutgers) to the roster.
It never felt like Missouri hit its stride last season. Nevertheless, the Tigers could have an imposing lineup. Alex Honnold is coming off a career year at the plate, hitting nearly .400 with 11 doubles, three triples and 14 home runs. The ever-steady Jenna Laird is back with her speed and Gold Glove at shortstop. The Tigers added reigning MVC Player of the Year Mya Dodge via the transfer portal from Northern Iowa, where she hit 30 home runs the past two years. Laurin Krings returns as the pitching staff’s ace, while Cierra Harrison and Taylor Pannell will look to build off successful freshman seasons.
Craig Snider’s tenure at Texas Tech got off to a good start last season. The Red Raiders won 31 games last year and simply got a feel for winning. Snider has made a non-conference schedule paired with the Big 12 slate, that if Texas Tech wins 31 games again they’ll certainly make the NCAA Tournament. Reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year Kailey Wyckoff will headline the lineup after she had a .393/.452/.740 slash line. Texas Tech graduated a chunk of its home run production from a year ago but it’s easy to put faith in Snider to get the best out of the lineup. The Red Raiders used a lot of pitchers last season but Sage Hoover will be the most trusted of the group. If the rest of the staff can lower their walk rate to be in line with Hoover’s you could potentially see Texas Tech begin to rise.
UCF enters the Big 12 with a lot to prove after taking a step back following its Super Regional appearance in 2022. Nevertheless, this group has plenty of talent on the roster. The team’s top two hitters from a year ago, Chloe Evans and Aubrey Evans, return to the lineup. The odds should favor that Jada Cody’s numbers get back toward her All-American season in 2022. Meanwhile, Sarah Willis found her best form in the circle last season, earning AAC Pitcher of the Year with a 1.65 ERA and 19 wins. Cindy Ball-Malone has a plethora of other arms to turn to for matchups. The Knights will certainly have the opportunity to prove their worth for the Top 25 as they face Tennessee, UCLA, Oregon and South Carolina before March 2nd.
Losing All-American shortstop Sydney McKinney is a big deal for the Shockers. Nevertheless, Wichita State is the preseason favorite to win what should be a very competitive American Conference. Addison Barnard is back healthy for her senior season after a shoulder injury was the root cause for her “down” year of 14 home runs and a .369 batting average, which reminds us how incredibly good Barnard has been in her career. The offense will look different without the graduated McKinney, Zoe Jones and Lauren Mills as well as Lauren Lucas, who will miss the season due to injury. Wichita State also returns the core of its pitching staff led by American Rookie of the Year Alex Aguilar.