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2020 Top 50 College Softball Programs Countdown: 21-25

Analysis

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We continue to roll out our inaugural Top 50 College Softball Programs rankings.

For the purpose of this exercise, we don’t care what happened in the 1970s or 80s, or even the 90s — that’s ancient history to a potential recruit in 2019. Tradition is nice, but it’s more important to establish a tradition of consistent winning in the last decade, and especially in the last five years. Our ultimate goal here is to identify the programs in the best shape right now, with an eye toward the next five to 10 years.

So we began by awarding programs points for making regionals and having postseason success in the last five years, and a fewer amount of points for success between six and 10 years ago. That gave us a starting point; then national writers Tara Henry and Rhiannon Potkey made adjustments based on evaluations of coaching staff quality and stability, facilities, scholarship/financial aid situation, conference dynamics, momentum, and recruiting and player development proficiency.

We tried to take many factors into consideration and debated our rankings internally at length. Reasonable minds will disagree on the rankings, and we want to hear your take, so weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments section below.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll count down from No. 50 to No. 1. Today, we take an in-depth look at No’s 21-25.

SEE ALSO: No. 26-30| No. 31-35| No. 36-40 |No’s 41-45 | No’s 46-50


No. 21 Minnesota

Location: Minneapolis
Conference:  Big Ten
Field: Jane Sage Cowles Stadium (1,000)
Head Coach: Piper Ritter, (First Season)
Postseason Appearances: 14
Last Decade: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 
WCWS Appearances: 1
All-Americans: 13
Olympians: 3

The Golden Gophers reached the postseason for the seventh straight year during their historic 2019 campaign. 

However, when dissecting the last decade, we’ve got to give credit where credit is due: Jessica Allister. 

Allister took over the program in 2011, going from a 16-37 (2010) record to 31-24 (2011), leading the Gophers back to the postseason in just two seasons at the helm. The 2014 Gophers won the Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship and advanced to the first Super Regional in program history. Fast forward to 2017, the selection committee snubbed the No. 2 ranked Gophers, sending them to face the No. 16 seed Alabama Crimson Tide. This press conference is still one of my favorites of all time. (Gopher Softball: 2017 NCAA Tournament Press Conference)

So, Allister exits, and Jaime Trachsel enters and picks up right where she left off. In fact, Minnesota reached its first WCWS under Trachsel. Please note, there has been one constant throughout the decade: Piper Ritter. The newly tabbed skipper offers both experience and stability for the Gophers. Ritter has guided four of the top pitchers in Minnesota, including Briana Hassett, Sara Moulton, Sara Grownwegen, and Amber Fiser. 


No. 22 California

Location: Berkeley, Calif.
Conference:  Pac-12
Field: Levine-Fricke Softball Field, (1,204)
Head Coach: Chelsea Spencer, (First Season)
Postseason Appearances: 33
Last Decade: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018
WCWS Appearances: 12
All-Americans: 42
Olympians: 10

Under former head coach, Diane Ninemire, the Bears reached the postseason eight times from 2010-2019 with back to back WCWS appearances in 2011 & 2012.

Cal defeated a seeded Kentucky in Super regionals during the 2011 campaign. After losing a tight Game 1 in OKC to Alabama, the Bears bounced back to beat Oklahoma State, 6-2 and were eliminated by Florida. The 2012 squad returned to OKC, posting an overall record of 58-7, 21-3 Pac-12. The roster included some big-time names: Britt Vonk, Valerie Arioto, Jace Williams, and Jolene Henderson. Henderson earned Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year honors that season with posting a 0.71 ERA in 29.2 innings of work, going 4-0 with three shutouts in the Berkeley Regional.

The Cal Bears ooze tradition with 103 wins in the postseason, ranking fifth behind Washington (121), Oklahoma (125), Arizona (173), and UCLA (228).
However, the Bears are heading into a new era with the hiring of Chelsea Spencer. The former Cal All-American returns to Pac-12 after spending two seasons at Texas. Spencer coached the Oregon Ducks from (2013-2018).


No. 23 BYU

Location: Provo, Utah 
Conference:  WCC
Field: Gail Miller Field (2,100)
Head Coach: Gordon Eakin, 671-319 (17 Seasons) 
Postseason Appearances: 16
Last Decade: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 
WCWS Appearances: 0
All-Americans: 6

Six straight West Coast Conference (WCC) championships and 15 consecutive NCAA Regional appearances placed BYU at No. 23 on our Top 50 programs of the decade.

With Gordon Eakin at the helm, the Cougars reached their first-ever NCAA Super Regional Appearance in 2010 after winning the Mountain West Conference with a 12-3 record. Led by junior hurler Paige Affleck (30-8), the Cougars clinched the MWC title with a 7-2 victory over Utah. BYU traveled to the Austin Regional, defeated East Carolina in Round 1 and No. 7 seed Texas in the second round of the regional. The Cougars defeated East Carolina for a second time, 8-3, to advance to the Tucson Super Regional against Arizona.

Players to Note: Delaney Willard first-team All-American and WAC Player of the Year and was the only player in the nation ranked in the top-25 in nine different national batting categories. Willard led the team in multiple categories in her senior campaign (2012), including average (.418), doubles (17), home runs (18), and RBIs (88).


No. 24 James Madison

Location: Harrisonburg, VA 
Conference: Colonial Athletic Association 
Field: Veterans Memorial Park (500)
Head Coach: Loren LaPorte 107-30 (Four Seasons) 
Postseason Appearances: 8
Last Decade: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
WCWS Appearances: 0
All Americans: 4

With six consecutive CAA first-place finishes, JMU has dominated conference play over the last decade.

The Dukes reached the NCAA tournament seven times from 2010-2019, hosting regionals twice (2015, 2019) and advancing to the Super Regionals twice (2016 & 2019) due to JMU’s first freshman All-American, Megan Good. Good compiled numerous awards and accolades the print on her bio is too small to read. The 2017 NFCA National Player of the Year posted a staggering 120-17 career record with 1.03 ERA, 86 CG, 900 strikeouts in 843.2 IP. The righthanded hurler sat out 2018 due to injury, only to return for their historic 2019 run. The two-way player also posted a career .351 average, smashing 16 home runs in her senior season.

In just her third season at the helm, Loren LaPorte led JMU to an overall 51-10 record and 20-1 CAA mark. The 2019 Dukes upset No. 15 seed Michigan in the Ann Arbor Regional, beating the Wolverines twice to advance to Supers. JMU fell to eventual WCWS champions, UCLA, at the Los Angeles Super Regional.


No. 25 Notre Dame

Location: South Bend, Ind.
Conference: ACC
Field: Melissa Cook Stadium (1,250)
Head Coach: Deanna Gumpf, 752-321-1 (20 Seasons)
Postseason Appearances: 24
Last Decade: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
WCWS Appearances: 0
All Americans: 18

The Fighting Irish have put together 32 consecutive winning seasons, 19 straight under current head coach, Deanna Gumpf.

Gumpf, the third head coach in Notre Dame history, led the Fighting Irish to back to back Big East conference titles in 2010 and 2011. Since moving to the a power five conference (ACC) in 2014, Notre Dame retained their winning record. With ten straight regional appearances, the Irish have been unlucky in postseason play, missing out on Super Regional appearances going 2-2 six times throughout the last decade.

Player to Note: Karley Wester tabbed USA Softball Player of the Year Finalist (2015) and ACC Freshman of the Year (2014) recorded a .422 career batting average. The run producing machine tallied 106 RBIs, 21 doubles, ten triples, six home runs during her career. In her junior campaign, she recorded a season-high 91 hits for a career total of 318 while at Notre Dame.

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