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2021 Women's College World Series Preview

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(Photo by James Madison Athletics)

After an abbreviated 2020 season that saw college softball come to an abrupt and devastating halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 season has been one of the best campaigns the sport has seen in recent memory. Whether it’s been booming offenses, veteran pitching or a combination of the two, college softball was full of impressive talent and great stories from all over the country this year.

And this year’s Women’s College World Series is sure to reflect that. With perennial favorites Oklahoma, UCLA, Alabama and Arizona once again making appearances in Oklahoma City, and upstart programs like Oklahoma State, Florida State, Georgia and James Madison punching their tickets as well, college softball’s biggest event surely won’t lack any star quality or entertainment value in 2021.

No. 1 Oklahoma (50-2)

Before the season even started, Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso knew she had one of the best teams she’s ever coached in the group that took the field in Norman this year. And that is certainly saying something.

These Sooners have lived up to expectations in 2021, recording 34 mercy-rule wins and consistently being the best team in the country all season long. Propelled by big bats throughout the lineup, this Oklahoma offense is perhaps more stacked than the infamous Murderers’ Row lineup of the 1927 New York Yankees. The Sooners are led by veteran slugger Jocelyn Alo (30 HR, 82 RBI), freshman sensation Tiare Jennings (25 HR, 84 RBI), ace Giselle ‘G’ Juarez (18-1, 121 strikeouts) and a host of other superstars this season.

The fully-loaded Sooners, who are winners of four national titles in program history, are appearing in their fifth consecutive Women’s College World Series and 14th overall this week in Oklahoma City.

No. 2 UCLA (46-5)

The Bruins are the defending national champions, and they’ve absolutely played like it all season long. With future Olympians Rachel Garcia (17-1, 0.95 ERA/.351 BA, 12 HR) and Bubba Nickles (.353 BA, 22 RBI) back with the team this year, UCLA’s roster is stacked from top to bottom with some of the best talent in the country. Add in the contributions of Briana Perez (.364 BA, 13 HR), Megan Faraimo (19-3, 1.10 ERA) and several other stars, and these Bruins are poised for another strong showing in Oklahoma City.

Before earning a spot in this year’s Women’s College World Series, UCLA escaped a scare in the Los Angeles Super Regional against Virginia Tech. After dropping the first game of the best-of-three series at home, the Bruins captured games two and three of the matchup against the Hokies and their ace Keely Rochard.

UCLA is in search of its nation-best 13th national title in program history.

No. 3 Alabama (50-7)

The SEC Tournament champions played their best softball of the season just ahead of their trip to Oklahoma City. After cruising through the Tuscaloosa Regional and Super Regional, Alabama rides an 18-game winning streak—with 16 of those wins coming over ranked opponents—into this year’s Women’s College World Series, which is the 13th ­appearance in program history.

With a healthy mix of speed and power on the team this year, the Crimson Tide have a balanced lineup led by SEC Player of the Year Bailey Hemphill (12 HR, 52 RBI). And it doesn’t get much better than what Alabama has going on in the circle this year with SEC Co-Pitcher of the Year Montana Fouts (24-3, 314 SO) and the always-reliable Lexi Kilfoyl (13-3, 1.57 ERA).

Alabama hopes to capture its second national title in program history this week in Oklahoma City.

No. 5 Oklahoma State (47-10)

The Kenny Gajewski era at Oklahoma State has not let Cowgirls fans down one bit, as the skipper now has his squad making back-to-back appearances at the Women’s College World Series for the first time since the 1993-94 season.

The Cowgirls made a statement against Big 12-foe Texas at the Stillwater Super Regional, taking two of three games—and six of seven on the season—from the Longhorns to advance to Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma State is led by Carrie Eberle (25-3, 153 SO) and Kelly Maxwell (15-4, 137 SO) in the circle this year, with the hefty bats of Alysen Febrey (.409, 18 HR), Hayley Busby (.389, 19 HR) and Kiley Naomi (.353, 14 HR) leading the way at the plate.

The Cowgirls are seeking their first national title in program history.

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Alissa Humphrey Is James Madison's Next Ace

In Alissa Humphrey, JMU gained a pitcher who aided in a run to the Women's College World Series.

No. 10 Florida State (44-10-1)

After a second-place finish in the ACC regular-season standings and a disappointing outcome at the 2021 ACC Tournament, several onlookers doubted if the No. 10 Seminoles had what it took this year to advance to their 11th Women’s College World Series, and fourth under head coach Lonni Alameda.

But Florida State proved all doubters wrong behind some strong pitching efforts from Kathryn Sandercock (24-2, 1.09 ERA), Caylan Arnold (10-6, 1.66 ERA) and Danielle Watson (10-1, 2.20 ERA), as well as clutch offense from veteran leader Sydney Sherrill (.313, 28 RBI) this postseason. After cruising through the Tallahassee Regional, the Seminoles took two straight contests from No. 7 LSU in front of a raucous crowd at the Baton Rouge Super Regional to punch their tickets to the big show in Oklahoma City.

This week, Florida State will try to repeat the magic it captured during the 2018 Women’s College World Series, when the Seminoles went on the most memorable run in program history to capture their first national championship.

No. 11 Arizona (41-13)

Arizona has represented the Pac-12 very well this postseason, sweeping through both the Tucson Regional and Fayetteville Super Regional in 2021.

The Wildcats are led by a deep and veteran roster that is highlighted by future Olympian Dejah Mulipola (21 HR, 63 RBI) and sluggers Sharlize Palacios (18 HR, 57 RBI) and Jessie Harper (15 HR, 48 RBI). In the circle, Arizona looks to ace Alyssa Denham (18-8, 1.98 ERA) as well as a complete staff rounded out by Hanah Bowen (10-3, 2.00 ERA) and Mariah Lopez (9-2, 2.61 ERA).

Arizona, in its 24th Women’s College World Series appearance, is seeking its ninth national championship in program history.

Georgia (34-21)

If you look at unseeded Georgia on paper, the Bulldogs don’t exactly appear to be a Women’s College World Series team with their 17 conference losses and 21 total defeats this season. But the great thing about college softball is that the game doesn’t know who is supposed to win.

That’s exactly the mentality Georgia took with it into the Gainesville Super Regional against No. 4 Florida last weekend. Like the last time the two squads faced off in Supers back in 2016, when the Bulldogs upset the then-No. 1 Gators, Georgia had a similar result against Florida in 2021.

Led by ace Mary Wilson Avant (20-10, 194 SO), the Bulldogs trounced the Gators on their own field, taking two straight games from them and leaving little doubt that a team that entered the NCAA Tournament on a seven-game losing streak belonged in Oklahoma City as one of the final eight teams left in the postseason. The Bulldogs, who have now won five straight games after sweeping the Athens Regional and Gainesville Super Regional, hope to secure their first national title in program history.

James Madison (39-2)

The upstart Dukes are everything that is good about college softball right now. With the clutch pitching of ace Odicci Alexander (16-1, 1.14 ERA) and timely hitting of team leaders Kate Gordon (18 HR, 55 RBI) and Sara Jubas (10 HR, 34 RBI), James Madison advanced to its first Women’s College World Series in program history after taking down No. 8 Missouri in a winner-take-all final at the Columbia Super Regional. Before that, James Madison marched through another SEC town at the Knoxville Regional and eliminated No. 9 Tennessee and Liberty after dominating the Colonial Athletic Association all season long.

The Dukes had been knocking on the door of the Women’s College World Series for a handful of years up to this point, but finally broke through in 2021, serving as the standard-bearers for all other mid-major programs at the Division 1 level to follow. James Madison is the first mid-major program to earn a spot in Oklahoma City since Louisiana did so in 2014.

The Dukes, who are the first CAA team in the conference’s history to advance to the Women’s College World Series, are hoping to continue their party-crashing streak this week and capture their first-ever national championship.

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