Brittany Pickett, UNC (UNC photo)

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2020 Top 50 College Softball Programs Countdown: 36-40

Analysis

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It’s time to unveil 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 36-40.

SEE ALSO: No’s 41-45 | No’s 46-50


No. 36 North Carolina

Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
Conference: ACC 
Field: Anderson Stadium (500) 
Head Coach: Donna J. Papa 1,266-709-5 (35 Seasons) 
Postseason Appearances: 15
Last Decade: 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019
WCWS Appearances: 0
All Americans: 10
Olympians:

The Tarheels won the ACC Championship in 2012 with a 43-15 reocrd and 13-4 mark in conference play. Under veteran coach Donna J. Pappa, North Carolina has been to the NCAA tournament seven out of the last ten years. The five-time ACC Coach of the Year took the 2017 Heels to the both the ACC Championship game and the NCAA Regional Championship game. 

The 2017 season proved to be one of the most impressive squads for the Tar Heels. With a rookie lefthander on the mound, North Carolina amassed a 40-21 record. As a freshman, Brittany Pickett won 22 games for the Heels, racking up numerous accolades including ACC Freshman of the Year. Pickett holds the record for career saves (12) and is ranked in the top 10 of 10 UNC single-season records. Unfortunately, the three-time All-ACC selection suffered a season ending injury in the 2020 shortened season just after a brilliant performance against the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide. Luckily, Pickett will be back for the Tar Heels in 2021.


No. 37 Mississippi State

Location: Starkville, Miss.
Conference: SEC
Field: Nusz Park (1,000) 
Head Coach: Samantha Ricketts, 25-3 (One Season)
Postseason Appearances: 15
Last Decade: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019 WCWS Appearances: 0
All Americans: 8

The Bulldogs have been quite impressive in one of nation’s premier conferences. Mississippi State has reached the NCAA tournament seven times in the last decade with help from former Oklahoma great, and current head coach Samantha Ricketts. Entering her second season at the helm, Ricketts has been an integral part of developing the Bulldog offense. Joining the staff as an assistant coach in 2015, Ricketts quickly climbed the coaching ranks being promoted to Associate Head Coach in 2019. 

Talk about offense, the 2019 squad exhibited loads of firepower behind the bats of Fa Leilua and Mia Davidosn. Leilua finished the season with 22 home runs just behind Davidson’s 26 on the year. The team blasted 72 homers on the season, boasting a .484 slugging percentage. MSU continued its success, going 25-3 in the 2020 shortened season. The Bulldogs were on a 14-game winning streak when the season was abruptly ended, making them a solid contender for the 2021 season. 

Inspiration: Read about the “Wall Sit Challenge” how the Bulldogs remember Alex Wilcox, a member of the 2018 squad.


No. 38 Arkansas

Location: Fayetteville, Ark.
Conference: SEC
Field: Bogle Park (1,200)
Head Coach: Courtney Deifel 128-100 (Five Seasons) Postseason Appearances: 9 
Last Decade: 2012, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019 
WCWS Appearances: 0
All Americans: 2

With Courtney Deifel at the helm, the Razorbacks advanced to three-consecutive postseason appearances including a super regional run in 2018. For the first time in program history, the 2018 Razorbacks squad earned a NCAA national seed (No. 13) and hosted the Fayetteville Regional at Bogle Park. During that series, Arkansas drew the third largest crowd in program history (2,142) during the championship game against Wichita State. The Razorbacks advanced to the Super Regional in Norman, Okla., only to fall short of their first WCWS appearance to the Sooners. 

Arguably one of the greatest selling points for Arkansas softballBogle Park is one of the finest facilities in the SEC, if not the nation. The park was unveiled in 2009, boasting a 4,000-plus square foot facility with a team lounge, locker rooms, training room, and offices. The seating features 1,200 chair-back seats, outfield berm (with space for large groups and grilling) and six suites overlooking the field. 


No. 39 Utah

Location: Salt Lake City
Conference: Pac-12 
Field: Dumke Family Softball Stadium (1,410) 
Head Coach: Amy Hogue, 335-310-1 (20 seasons)
Postseason Appearances: 15
Last Decade: 2015, 2016, 2017 
WCWS Appearances: 5
All Americans: 13
Olympians: 1 

With three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including back-to-back Super Regional appearances for the first time in program history (2016, 2017), the Utes check in at No. 39 on our All-Decade list. Utah moved to the Pac-12 back in 2012 after previously competing in the Mountain West Conference. In the 2020 shortened season, the Utes entered our D1Softball poll early in the season posting a 14-4 overall record. All of their losses were to ranked opponents (Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State). 

Most notable player: Hannah Flippen (2014-2017) earned back-to-back Pac-12 Player of the Year awards and was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the year (first player to be named both). The current U.S. National Team member served on the Utes coaching staff as a graduate assistant (2018) and assistant coach (2019) before leaving to focus on the Olympics. The four-time Pac-12 honoree set records for runs (197), hits (263) and batting average (.392).


No. 40 DePaul

Location: Chicago
Conference: Big East
Field: Cacciatore Stadium (1,000)
Head Coach: Tracie Adix-Zins, 35-16-1 (Two Seasons)
Postseason Appearances: 21
Last Decade: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019
WCWS Appearances: 4
All Americans: 26
Olympians: 0

Despite outside distractions, the Blue Demons have reached the NCAA tournament the last three years for a total of seven times in the last decade. Under current head coach and former DePaul All-American, Tracie Adix-Zins, the 2019 squad won their third-consecutive Big East Tournament title. DePaul finished her first season with a 35-16 record.

Player to note: Kristen Verdun (2011-2014)

The two-time All-American contributed to the success of the Blue Demons throughout her four-year career. The two-way player and Big East Rookie of the Year (2011) led DePaul with 43 RBIs, 11 home runs and 47 walks in her first season. During her senior campaign (2014), Verdun tied DePaul’s single-season record for wins (33) and set career pitching records for games started (145), strikeouts looking (224) and batters faced (3880). As a hitter she set the career batting record for walks (156).

 

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