Softball America 2024 Preseason Roundtable

Softball America’s Tara Henry, Gray Robertson and Brady Vernon answer a handful of the game’s biggest questions leading into the 2024 season.

Who is the most underrated transfer that will have a bigger impact than most expect? 

Tara Henry: Kelley Lynch. The Washington transfer will make an immediate impact at LSU in the circle and at the plate. Lynch recorded 110 strikeouts in 77.2 innings pitched holding opponents to a .178 batting average at Washington just a season ago. It’s hard to believe Lynch has a career 4.26 ERA and head coach Beth Torina just may be the answer she’s been looking for. Did I mention she can hit? Lynch should get some time at the DP when she’s not in the circle.

Gray Robertson: When folks across the country discuss impact transfers, they should be talking way more about Nia Carter at Arkansas. Perhaps she flew relatively under the radar because Iowa had some struggles throughout her career, but Carter is an incredibly dynamic presence at the plate. She’s a career .415 hitter, and Courtney Deifel said in our Softball Media Days interview, “She is everything that you would expect when you see her statline.” When she went in the portal, my antenna went up, and it was huge for Arkansas to grab her. I think she’s an instant impact player for the Razorbacks.

Brady Vernon: Funny, I think there’s another former Iowa Hawkeye that makes an impact in her new home. Louisiana is coming off a Super Regional appearance but graduated Sun Belt Player of the Year Karly Heath. They found a veteran who has had success on both sides similar to Heath. Denali Loecker is coming off back-to-back years hitting 10 home runs and has 22 career doubles, which should help replace part of the power numbers Heath had last season. She had her most efficient year in the circle with a 2.86 ERA over 73.1 innings. She also threw 130-plus inning the year prior, which the Ragin’ Cajuns will need after graduating nearly 58% of the team’s innings from a year ago.

What freshman will immediately become a star this season? 

TH: Tegan Kavan. It sounds like the rookie may be No. 1 on the depth chart and for good reason. The 6-0 right-hander dominated the fall and forced a lot of swings and misses. Kavan also benefits from support and veterans in the bullpen. The quartet of Mac Morgan, Estelle Czceh, Sophia Simpson, and Citlaly Guitierrez makes it a lot easier to be fearless during her freshman campaign. 

GR: I love Tara’s pick of Tegan Kavan, so I’ll switch it up and show a little love to Florida State’s Jaysoni Beachum. I’ve seen some amazing hitters swing through the summer leagues, but Beachum may have been the most impressive of all. This past summer, as a rising college freshman facing players with actual collegiate experience, she hit .640 with an OPS of 2.039. Beachum drove in 21 runs in 25 at-bats, and she displayed uncanny power on a variety of pitches all over the zone (including a few in the other batter’s box). Her pitch selection and recognition are remarkable for her age, and I can’t wait to see what she does with Lonni Alameda when given the chance.

BV: I’ll say it’s a Florida Gator, but it won’t be Keagan Rothrock or Ava Brown. Mia Williams has a good chance of making an impressive Florida lineup even better. Skylar Wallace’s numbers were insane last year across the board, but she’s an incredible leadoff hitter who provides plenty of scoring opportunities for her teammates. Factor in Kendra Falby and Korbe Otis’ speed at the top of the order as well, RBIs will be there for the taking. While Oklahoma transfer Jocelyn Erickson will be in the heart of the order to drive in those runs, Williams could finish the year with a good amount of RBIs as well. Williams should also be able to hold down second base after Florida used a platoon there following Hannah Adams’ graduation. 

Who is your pick for National Player of the Year? 

TH: Maya Brady. The UCLA shortstop posted a 1.381 OPS a season ago with 33 extra-base hits, 18 of those by way of the long ball. The redshirt senior is in her fifth season with the Bruins and is the type of player any coach would want. Brady is physical, a leader and is primed to have a special final season in Westwood. 

 GR: It feels like it’s time for Tiare Jennings. She’s been insanely productive throughout her career, and she needs 84 RBIs this year to break Jenny Dalton-Hill’s long-standing record. With all the love to our friend JDH, I think Jennings claims the RBI belt and, with that narrative added to the overall production, takes Player of the Year.

BV: Well this isn’t fun, as my top two choices were Brady and Jennings. For UCLA to get back to Oklahoma City, the Bruins’ offense likely has to be one of the best in the country. The pathway to that involves Brady having similar numbers to last season as she nearly won the Pac-12 Triple Crown. As to Gray’s point, Jennings has truthfully played at a Player of the Year caliber every season of her career, but the stars didn’t align. If I had to pick one, I’d go with Jennings as truthfully she’ll likely finish as one of the best hitters our game has seen and it feels right that she ends her collegiate career with the award. 

What team do you think can make a surprising run to Oklahoma City? 

TH: LSU. If the Tigers can get solid innings out of Sydney Berzon, Kelley Lynch and Raelin Chaffin they have a shot. With Bryce Neal taking over the hitting duties, LSU will put up some big numbers on the offensive end. Add in a healthy Taylor Pleasants, McKenzie Redoutey’s bat and a gold glove in Ciara Briggs – you’ve got the makings of a potential WCWS squad. 

GR: Baylor hasn’t been to Oklahoma City since 2017, but this season is a great chance to make a triumphant return. Basically everybody is back for a squad that showed true flashes of brilliance last season, and the Bears have two trustworthy arms in Dariana Orme and Aaliyah Benford leading the way. If everybody stays healthy, Glenn Moore might have the right formula for a run to the WCWS.

BV: They won’t be in the eight that I pick, which very well be a cop-out, but Texas A&M has the juice to get there. Trisha Ford got Arizona State to Oklahoma City in her second season there. While this roster doesn’t have a Giselle Juarez, it has plenty of talent across the board. A lot of it hinges on Emiley Kennedy becoming the ace, making those flashes throughout the season become everyday outings. Ford has a true staff to work with behind Kennedy as well. The offense heads into year two with Jeff Harger as well, there’s plenty of power and speed balance this season with Julia Cottrill, Jazmine Hill, Trinity Cannon, Kennedy Powell and Koko Wooley. 

What does your Women’s College World Series field look like? 

TH: Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, Clemson, Stanford, Tennessee, LSU, Duke 

GR: One of my bold predictions is that the WCWS is filled mostly with the “New SEC” and “New Big Ten.” I’ll take Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Oregon, UCLA, and Clemson.

BV: Oklahoma, Florida State, Stanford, Texas, Georgia, Clemson, LSU, Arkansas

What team is best equipped to prevent Oklahoma’s four-peat? 

TH: Texas. The amount of elite arms available to Mike White is nearly a crime. It’s hard enough to prepare for one pitcher and with an entire Longhorn arsenal the Oklahoma hitters are going to have a lot of homework. If you look at the Texas lineup it will need to capitalize with runners on base. The problem for Texas is this strategy works both ways. Oklahoma has its own stockpile of available arms. It’s going to be a battle. Timely hitting, solid defense and may come down to whoever has the last at-bat. 

GR: I don’t know yet, but I see three teams that can be a candidate. Texas surely has the offense and a true pitching staff, but who is the go-to? Find an answer, and the Longhorns can certainly compete. Is Georgia’s pitching staff equipped to limit an offense as strong as Oklahoma’s? The Bulldogs have the offensive firepower, but I’m still wondering about the pieces in the circle against a lineup like that. Finally, Stanford’s NiJaree Canady is probably the only pitcher in America that could beat Oklahoma twice…but she can’t do it herself. Has the offense taken the necessary strides to win a title? If any of those teams uncover a resounding “yes” to those questions, then the chance of dethroning the Sooners goes up.

BV: Texas if it played in a different conference. The Longhorns have one of the most well-rounded rosters. The lineup has budding stars across the board. The pitching staff is deep with different looks. As mentioned before Kavan might be the go-to from day one. Mac Morgan pitched well last year, Citlaly Gutierrez led the team in ERA as a freshman, we’ve seen good things from Estelle Czech and Mike White’s been pretty high on Sophia Simpson coming into the year. The reality is that the Oklahoma offense makes incredible adjustments and the fact the two teams could play up to four times before an Oklahoma City matchup makes it even tougher in my mind. Though no one said it was going to be easy to achieve. 

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