2023 Puerto Vallarta College Challenge

2023 Pac-12 Softball Preview: Contenders From Top-To-Bottom

2023 Pac-12 Softball Preview: Contenders From Top-To-Bottom

College softball's all-time powerhouse program UCLA leads a deep, talented Pac-12 Conference with five preseason Top 25 teams.

Jan 26, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
2023 Pac-12 Softball Preview: Contenders From Top-To-Bottom

 No conference boasts more members to have won the Women's College World Series than the Pac-12's five (UCLA, Arizona, Cal, Arizona State, Washington), nor comes anywhere near matching the league's 24 combined titles. 

With the sudden rise of Oklahoma, however, and a steadily improved Southeastern Conference during the 2010s, the Pac-12's stranglehold on national championships has loosened. The conference went eight years between titles after Arizona State's 2011 crown, not claiming another WCWS until UCLA in 2019. Contrast that with the stretch from 1988 through the Sun Devils' '11 championship, when the Pac claimed all but three, and it's evident the game has changed. 

But while the Pac-12 may not monopolize the national championship anymore, it remains one of the best top-to-bottom conferences in the sport. Five teams made the D1Softball preseason Top 25, including boasting the nation's No. 2 in perennial powerhouse UCLA. 

Coming off a run to the WCWS in what would be considered a down season by program standards, Arizona opens 2023 ranked No. 18. And Stanford, one of the Pac's programs never to win a national championship, heads into the campaign with the pieces necessary to contend to join that club. 

Is UCLA The Best Bet to Unseat Oklahoma? 

Softball's original dynasty and the most enduring powerhouse in the sport, UCLA, reached the 2022 WCWS and scored three wins in Oklahoma City — the last of which was a 7-3 defeat of Oklahoma. 

Considering the two-time national champion Sooners lost just three games all of 2022, that was no minor accomplishment in a postseason run filled with impressive victories for the Bruins. UCLA drubbed Florida, cruised past Big Ten champion Northwestern, and had little trouble sweeping one of the best teams in the ACC, Duke. In those wins, UCLA surrendered a combined eight runs. 

Now, Oklahoma got vengeance and bounced UCLA from the WCWS with a 15-0 rout immediately following the Bruins' 7-3 win, speaking to the gap that existed being the Sooners and the rest of the nation in 2022. But with the outstanding Megan Faraimo back after a tremendous season in the circle, power-hitting standout Maya Brady and a host of other talented playmakers up and down the roster, UCLA may be best-equipped to bring the national title back to the West. 

Aaliyah Jordan's Return 

Sticking with UCLA, one of the marquee storylines of the 2023 season is the return of outfielder Aaliyah Jordan. The two-time 1st Team All-American and a star of UCLA's 2019 WCWS-winning team, Jordan was limited to eight games in 2022. 

The additional year of eligibility gives Jordan an opportunity to pursue a second national championship, and potentially write her name in the illustrious history of UCLA softball. She should become the program's all-time leader in doubles and could finish second all-time in RBI. 

Baylee Klingler's Pursuit of Player of the Year

Baylee Klingler became the Pac's first Triple Crown winner since 1999 with a .453 batting average, 65 RBI and 22 home runs in the regular season. Also an All-Defensive honoree, Klingler's outstanding, all-around game garnered her 1st Team All-American recognition. She finished in the top three for the USA Softball Player of the Year a season ago, and figures to be one of the primary front-runners to win the 2023 edition of the award. 

Klingler transferred to Washington from Texas A&M in 2019 after earning SEC All-Freshman and was an immediate difference-maker for the Huskies. She's hit at least .416 in each of her three seasons (one the truncated 2020 campaign) as a Husky, driven in 157 runs at UW, and hit 45 home runs. If she matches last year's 24 round-trippers, Klingler will tie Kristen Rivera for most ever at Washington. 

Year 2 for Caitlin Lowe at Arizona

Caitlin Lowe was tabbed to replace legendary Arizona coach Mike Candrea following the 2021 season — a difficult job before ever taking the field, but one made all the more challenging through the struggles the Wildcats endured in Lowe's first year as head coach. 

Arizona finished in unfamiliar territory near the bottom of the Pac-12 standings and on the bubble come NCAA Tournament selection time. 

However, the former Wildcat standout and Hall of Famer as a player rekindled that magic in her first postseason as head coach, leading Arizona to perhaps the most surprising WCWS run of the Oklahoma City-bound teams in 2022. 

Wildcats key to powering that postseason run return looking to guide Arizona back to its usual place in the hunt for the Pac-12 title, starting with home run-hitting dynamo Allie Skaggs. Skaggs hit 24 in her sophomore campaign, part of a .367 batting season that resulted in a .797 slugging percentage. 

Pitcher Devyn Netz was electric in Arizona's postseason elimination contests, shutting out Missouri in the Columbia Regional and holding Mississippi State to one run in the Super Regionals. If she carries that dominance over into 2023, Netz will be among the Pac-12's most effective starters. 

Historic Potential at Stanford 

After a sustained period of stagnation last decade — resulting in four straight losing seasons from 2015 through 2018 — Stanford turned the corner with its entry into the 2019 NCAA Tournament. 

The Cardinal reached another milestone in 2022, advanced to the Super Regionals for the first time in 11 years. They head into 2023 with the firepower necessary to advance to the program's first WCWS since 2004 — and perhaps even contend for their first national championship. 

Coach Jessica Allister's tenure has been wildly successfully after the dismal stretch preceding her, with Stanford steadily building to this point. Sydnee Huff, Emily Young, Alana Vawter and Taylor Gindlesperger, the core of the Cardinal's veteran lineup, are all either fourth-year players or graduate seniors. 

Few teams can match the experience Stanford boasts. Likewise, few teams are as balanced offensively and defensively.