A team needs to challenge Oklahoma on the national level before believing the Sooners won’t win the Big 12 regular season title. However, the Texas Longhorns have the talent to give it a shot. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State and Baylor will compete to host a regional. Don’t be surprised when the newcomers in UCF and BYU make noise as well.
Big 12 Player of the Year: Tiare Jennings, Oklahoma
Big 12 Pitcher of the Year: Nicole May, Oklahoma
Big 12 Freshman of the Year: Teagan Kavan, Texas
Five Underrated Players to Know:
- Shelby Smith, Houston
- Olivia Bruno, Kansas
- Katie Lott, Oklahoma State
- Joley Mitchell, Texas
- Chloe Evans, UCF
Three Storylines That Will Define the Season:
How good can Texas’ underclassmen be?
It didn’t take long for Viviana Martinez, Leighann Goode, Reese Atwood, Ashton Maloney and Citlaly Gutierrez to make an impression on us last year. By the sounds of it, Teagan Kavan, Kayden Henry and a handful of other freshmen might do the same this season. The impressive recruiting classes are a reminder of just how good White’s Oregon teams were year after year and what he built in Eugene.
The replenishment of top-tier talent has allowed Texas to have high expectations once again. And despite the fact none of the players aforementioned aside from Maloney (unavailable that season due to injury) were a part of the national runner-up squad, the talent is there to compete in Oklahoma City once again.
Although, for that to come to fruition, improvements are needed here and there. Martinez switched positions throughout the year and regardless of where she ends up, she’ll need to clean up the 16 errors from a year ago. Goode was terrific on both sides of the ball and will be a valuable piece for White due to of her versatility. She hit somewhat of a freshman wall – if hitting over .300 is considered a wall – as her average went from .370 in the middle of April to .325 by the end of the season. Atwood led the team in home runs (11) as well as strikeouts (29) but that combination tends to come with the territory of a power hitter. Improving walk total and plate awareness will be key as she only walked three times in 2023.
It’s harder to critique Maloney, who hit .382 a year removed from her injury, and Gutierrez, the team’s ERA (2.00) leader.
Those small improvements could be the difference in being a Super Regional host for instance. When you take into account the older Texas players; Mia Scott, Mac Morgan, Bella Dayton, Estelle Czech, Joely Mitchell and others, it’s easy to understand how Texas is a contender this season and for the future. They might be the best equipped to be the team to have a chance to stop Oklahoma’s four-peat. The rookies Kavan and Henry could be the final pieces to the puzzle if they are able to handle the bright lights.
What’s the ceiling for Oklahoma State’s offense?
The Cowgirls will undoubtedly miss Kelly Maxwell. But, even if Maxwell had returned to Stillwater, the offense is . Oklahoma State still needed to revamp its lineup. Graduating and losing Rachel Becker, Kiley Naomi, Cheyenne Factor, Mordyn Wynne and Katelynn Carwile in one offseason is a lot. Especially when you take in account the offense sputtered during the second half of the season, which may be part of the reason why Kenny Gajewski parted away with hitting coach Whitney Cloer back in December.
How does the offense complement the pitching staff of Lexi Kilfoyl, Kyra Aycock and freshman Katie Kutz? Gajewski as he does, dove into the transfer portal. The biggest offseason addition was Caroline Wang (formerly Hudson), the two-time ASUN Player of the Year from Liberty. She’s hit 29 doubles and 32 home runs the past two seasons while being a very good defender behind the plate. Jilyen Poullard shouldn’t be forgotten about either. The McNeesse transfer had incredible numbers in 2022 – .367 average, 12 doubles, four triples, seven home runs and 19 stolen bases – before she left the team in 2023 and committed to Oklahoma State.
Then there’s the returners. Tallen Edwards will lead the group, having the highest average of those coming back to Stillwater. Reminder: Edwards graduated high school early last season, and ended up making a trip Oklahoma City with the Cowgirls. Micaela Wark hit 10 home runs in her first season without injury. A better year at the plate should be in the cards for defensive stalwart Megan Bloodworth. She only had a .192 average with seven extra-base hits, far lower than her six doubles and seven home runs her freshman year at Alabama. Even way back to Gajewski’s last press conference following his team’s elimination at the WCWS, he expected Katie Lott and Claire Timm to have big roles this season and that hasn’t changed.
There will be plenty of at-bats for freshmen to take. Rosie Davis and Karli Godwin appear to be ready to go from the opening gates of the season. Each brings power and will likely find a home in the infield.
— OSU Cowgirl Softball (@cowgirlsb) October 11, 2023
The odds probably favor a flipped script for the offense compared to last season. With many players stepping into their first or second time as full-time starters, the offense might not be firing on all cylinders. But, it could get better as the season progresses and that tends to be a good recipe for success.
Will Baylor be a Top 16 seed?
The Bears arguably had the best collection of wins last season from a non-host. They handed Oklahoma its lone loss of the season and beat Tennessee twice in Knoxville. However, Baylor couldn’t quite find that consistent high level of play throughout the year. During conference play, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State swept the Bears by a combined score of 29-6, with five of their runs coming in one game. Baylor also sandwiched a sweep of Texas with three losses to Iowa State, which included the Bears’ exit from the Big 12 Tournament.
Nevertheless, Baylor returns essentially its whole roster from a year ago. And most importantly a healthy Dariana Orme and Aliyah Binford. Ultimately the two injuries were connected. Binford’s knee issue only allowed her to play 11 games last season, putting more work on Orme, who didn’t pitch in the postseason due to what was diagnosed as thoracic outlet syndrome. Orme can pitch at a very high level, Binford has provided solid innings throughout her career.
The one positive that can be pulled from the injuries is that it allowed opportunities RyLee Crandall and Kaci West. Crandall had good outings last season as a freshman against Texas and Oklahoma State but her walk rate was high, creating issues for her at times. That is one key factor to watch this season. Throw talented freshman Lexie Warncke into the mix, Baylor should be able to get Orme and Binford back into the fold with a smaller workload and have a deep staff for the postseason.
The pitching staff should be the strength of this team. However, when the lineup welcomes back its top eight qualified batters in terms of average from last season, it’s easy to see how well-rounded the Bears are as a roster. They won’t hit a ton of home runs as Shaylon Govan hit 11 of the team’s 25 blasts.
Instead, they can use speed and contact. McKenzie Wilson and Sydney Collazos hit over .320. Wilson and Presleigh Pilon each stole 15-plus bases. Ana Watson, Amber Toven and Emily Hott all had double-digit doubles. This doesn’t account for Binford, rookie Leah Cran and Ashlyn Wachtendorf, who was very productive in limited at-bats.
If healthy Baylor should be right in the mix for hosting a regional after showing it can beat top teams and will benefit from a strong non-conference slate that opens with series against Tennessee and Louisana and a very competitive Big 12.