Big Ten Preview: Nebraska looks like the cream of the crop in the conference

The addition of Jordy Bahl to the conference has brought fresh eyes to the Big Ten. Bahl’s Cornhuskers appear to be the favorites to finish atop the standings. However, three other teams made the NCAA Tournament last season and a few others have plenty of experience coming back. How might the Big Ten shake out? 

Projected Standings
Ohio State
Penn State
Michigan State

Award Predictions 

Big Ten Player of the Year: Billie Andrews, Nebraska

Big Ten Pitcher of the Year: Jordy Bahl, Nebraska

Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Emma Raye, Northwestern

Five Underrated Players to Know: 

  • Brianna Copeland, Indiana
  • Keia Bucher, Maryland
  • Jess Oakland, Minnesota
  • Ashley Miller, Northwestern
  • Kyleigh Sand, Rutgers

Three Storylines That Will Define the Conference: 

Can Jordy Bahl elevate Nebraska from a regional threat to a regional host?

The Cornhuskers have been a feisty team the past two seasons, winning the Big Ten tournament title in 2022 and making noise in the Stillwater regional back-to-back years with a youthful core. But now, that core are veterans and paired with Jordy Bahl, arguably the best player in the country. 

While Bahl already has two national championships to her name, she is still plenty motivated to represent her home in Nebraska. She’ll carry the predator mentality that earned her the Women’s College World Series Most Outstanding Player honors into the circle to be the ace in Lincoln. Now, we’ll also see her hit and play a variety of positions. When playing in Norman, at-bats were tough to come to by. This year Bahl will be an integral part of the Nebraska lineup and there should be little doubt that she can do it. 

She’s joining an offense that has firepower too. Billie and Brooke Andrews have been staples for the Cornhuskers. Bille Andrews has hit 20 doubles and 36 home runs in the past two seasons while having an on-base percentage of over .440 in both years. Multiple players had double-digit doubles last season including Katelyn Caneda and Caitlynn Neal. St. John’s transfer Peyton Cody is a reliable bat as well. Rhonda Revelle was excited about the opportunity for the sophomore class, and for players like Talia Tokheim and others, they’ll, unfortunately, have that chance as returning starter Abbie Squier will miss the season with an injury. 

It does seem that the pieces are there for Nebraska to host a regional. We’ll quickly find out how good they can be as the Cornhuskers take on Washington, Duke, San Diego State, UCLA, Oregon, Utah and Arkansas in their non-conference slate. 

Does Piper Ritter have an ace up her sleeve for Minnesota?

Piper Ritter has overseen the development of Golpher greats Briana Hassett, Sara Moulton, Sara Groenewegen, Amber Fiser and Autumn Pease. But, does she have another ace up her sleeve? Pease was terrific last season and tossed more than half of Minnesota’s inning last year. Now with her graduation, the staff has a few question marks. 

Jamie Hambrick showed she can handle the Power Five transition after coming in from GCU last season. However, heading into her senior season she’s never thrown more than 104 innings. Bri Enter is a graduate student but last season her 37.2 innings were a career-high. 

Could it be one of the younglings? Sydney Schwartz, the younger sister of former Wisconsin standout Maddie Schwartz, saw limited action in her freshman year but has good stuff. Reigning Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year Jessa Snippes leads a freshman group in the circle that includes Cameron Grayson and Macy Richardson

Truthfully, Minnesota could pitch by committee. Regardless of an ace or not, if the pitching holds up it’ll be paired with what could be a very, very good offense. The youthful left side of the infield of Kayla Chavez and Jess Oakland has a ton of potential as they led the team in RBI last season. Taylor Krapf’s production was a surprise after being a late addition from Duke, hitting 14 home runs as a first-time starter. The Gophers added graduate transfers Morgan DeBord (LMU) and Cassie Lindmark (Penn State) who will make an immediate impact. The potential is very high for the Gophers this season. 

What will the new era of Northwestern look like?

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Northwestern without the incredibly successful class of Danielle Williams, Jordyn Rudd, Maeve Nelson, Skyler Shellmyer, Nikki Cuchran and our own Sydney Supple. This Wildcat team, looking for its third straight Super Regional appearance, will look a bit different, but maybe not as different as you think. 

There are still a handful of returners to this program. Lauren Boyd tossed over 100 innings last year. Her 1.67 ERA during conference play ranked third, making it quite clear she can become the team’s ace. Angela Zedak and Hannah Cady are the veteran leaders on this year’s squad that helped get Northwestern to Oklahoma City in 2022. 

Sophomores Kelsey Nader and Kansas Robinson will be a big part of the offense. Nader will bring more contact and her .312 batting average. While Robinson provided power, finishing tied for second on the team with nine home runs. Grace Nieto’s numbers were down compared to her Big Ten All-Freshman campaign as she battled injuries last season, expect those to go back up this year. 

Boyd will also be accompanied by Cami Henry, who tossed a bulk of the innings last season, and Michigan State transfer Ashley Miller. Miller has had good numbers in East Lansing but didn’t always have the run support to show it. In 2022, Miller finished the season 1.81 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with only a 14-17 record to show for it. More wins should be in Miller’s future. 

Nevertheless, the Wildcats will be back in Clearwater and at the Mary Nutter with tough matchups against LSU, Oklahoma State, Texas and UCLA. Will there be growing pains or a team be ready to step into its own? We’ll soon find out. 

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