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Five College Softball Programs On The Rise

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(Photo by Clemson Athletics)

Even though COVID-19 cut the 2020 college softball season short, many Division I programs still gave softball fans a glimpse into what the future could hold due to the success they experienced early this spring.

See below for five programs that we believe are on the rise in Division I softball.

Clemson

Clemson’s introduction to college softball was met with immediate success. The first-year Atlantic Coast Conference program unveiled a state-of-the-art facility before the season began and had NCAA Tournament aspirations before COVID-19 wiped out the remainder of the 2020 season. The groundwork for success at Clemson has been laid by John Rittman and his staff and the results should follow.

In the program's first season, Clemson finished 19-8 including a 5-1 start in ACC play as well as a resume building non-conference win over Georgia. Its roster in the first season was comprised of transfers and freshmen players who made an immediate impact on the field. Freshmen Hannah Goodwin (.385 batting average) and Valerie Cagle (.376) anchor a potent offensive attack for the Tigers. Cagle, a complete two-way player, returns as Clemson’s most effective pitcher in the circle.

Duke

Much like its ACC counterpart Clemson, Duke’s rise to prominence has been a rapid one. In just the third season of the program’s existence, the Blue Devils finished the 2020 campaign at 23-4 and were well on their way to the first NCAA Tournament appearance in the team’s history.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a cruel blow to what is brewing in Durham, N.C., but the level of optimism for the future is only growing around the program. Returning to its lineup next season includes outfielder Jameson Kavel (.377 batting average), infielder Rachel Crabtree (.373), outfielder Caroline Jacobsen (.368) and utility player Kendyl Lange (.327).

Duke has a potent offensive attack that included a 16-2 win over Indiana and 22-1 win over Rutgers in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The expectations will be high when Duke finally returns to the diamond, but it will once again have the pieces to be a threat in the ACC and make the NCAA Tournament.

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Indiana

After coming from Marshall to Indiana, head coach Shonda Stanton’s teams have been known for their speed on the bases and their collective approach at the plate. IU has established its identity as a small-ball team with room for power in the middle of its lineup.

Following an impressive 2019 campaign, 2020 got off to a slow start but showed promise before the end of the season. Senior pitcher Emily Goodin will be back in the circle for the Hoosiers next spring. She was 10-7 during the shortened 2020 season, but held a 1.76 ERA and threw 13 complete games. The potential breakout of pitcher Josie Wood and the addition of freshmen homegrown players Macy Montgomery and Amber Linton should give optimism to IU’s pitching staff.

Nearly all of IU’s roster will return next season, spearheaded by veteran bats Annika Baez, Taylor Lambert, Grayson Radcliffe and Gabbi Jenkins.

IU has the potential and the support to be a regular in the NCAA Tournament and a power in the Big Ten. The next step in the program’s progression is starting to knock off Big Ten heavyweights such as Michigan and Minnesota.

Oregon State

Oregon State made the NCAA Tournament five times in the past decade, yet has struggled to find consistent success under head coach Laura Berg. In 2020, the Beavers returned to success thanks in large part to two-way player Mariah Mazon. Mazon hit .377, while also going 10-6 with a 1.18 ERA in the circle.

The Beavers, in a sense, were ride or die with Mazon during this year’s campaign. She’ll return next year along with a plethora of talent in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon and Washington have been the staples of success in the region, but now Oregon State is attempting to make its name.

Stanford

Following an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2019, Stanford’s 22-4 start to 2020 had the Cardinal well on track for another shot at earning a spot in the Big Dance.

Outfielder Taylor Gindlesperger (.402 batting average) shined during the shortened season and will return alongside Emily Schultz (.373) to form an outstanding middle part of the Stanford lineup.

In the circle, Stanford will return a pair of freshmen that carried a heavy load last season. Tatum Boyd (7-0, 0.85 ERA) and Alana Vawter (9-1, 1.48 ERA) made an early impact for the Cardinal during their shortened rookie campaigns.

Behind its young arms and talented hitters, Stanford could be a threat in the Pac-12 for years to come.

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