The 2023 NCAA softball tournament is full of talented teams ready to blaze their paths to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Top overall seed Oklahoma is vying to become the second program in Division I softball history to three-peat as national champions. Coach Patty Gasso’s team looks as dominant as ever, as the Sooners lead the country in scoring (8.1 runs per game), ERA (0.86) and fielding percentage (.989). With only one loss, Oklahoma is riding the second-longest single-season streak in Division I history (43 straight) into its regional matchup against Hofstra (Friday, 5 p.m. ET, ESPNU).
Despite losing home run queen Jocelyn Alo and ace Hope Trautwein from a season ago, Oklahoma still boasts one of the most talented rosters in the country. Seven Sooners were named First Team All-Big 12 selections, including Nicole May and Jordy Bahl, who won Big 12 Pitcher of the Year in her first two seasons. Their lineup features five different players who each have 10 home runs and at least 40 RBIs.
But Oklahoma is just one out of 64 teams that is full of talent. No. 2 overall seed UCLA has two-time Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Megan Faraimo (29-2, 1.33 ERA, 226 strikeouts), as well as Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Jordan Woolery, who’s slashing .399/.464/.665.
Florida State wouldn’t be the No. 3 overall seed without its strong pitching staff, led by fifth-year senior Kathryn Sandercock (23-3, 1.16 ERA) and freshman Makenna Reid (12-0, 0.97 ERA, 83 strikeouts in 72 innings). No. 13 seed Texas’ four pitchers have combined for a 2.26 ERA, over a full run lower than the team that reached last year’s championship series.
Now that the stage is set, let’s break down 10 players from 10 different teams who are some of the most compelling athletes in this year’s tournament field.
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Rachel Becker, 2B, Oklahoma State
Becker arrived at Stillwater knowing she would only have one season in black and orange, and the graduate transfer has made the most of her final collegiate season. Besides being a human highlight reel with a .980 fielding percentage at second base, her impact can be felt the most from the Cowgirls’ leadoff spot. Becker’s 20 doubles are tied for second-most in the country, while her batting average (.457) and on-base percentage (.564) rank in the top 10 nationally. Despite sharing the conference with Oklahoma, the Big 12 first-team selection and former Purdue Boilermaker led the conference in batting average, hits (74) and doubles.
Maya Brady, SS, UCLA
The spotlight may find Brady because of her last name (she is the niece of future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady), but it has no choice but to follow her as she plays through the best season of her collegiate career. The Pac-12 Player of the Year led the conference in six offensive categories and became the Bruins’ first batting average champion (.458) since Kelli Godin in 2019. The redshirt junior also increased her power numbers, entering the tournament with 18 home runs, 59 RBIs and an .892 slugging percentage. Previously a mainstay in the Bruins’ outfield, the two-time All-Pac-12 first team selection stepped into UCLA’s starting shortstop position in 2023, recording a .928 fielding percentage.
Valerie Cagle, UTL/P, Clemson
Clemson has crept closer and closer to Oklahoma City since its inaugural 2020 season was cut short. If the Tigers hope to reach their first Women’s College World Series in program history, they’ll need to lean on Cagle, their star two-way pitcher. The two-time ACC Player of the Year (2021, 2023) returned to the field this season after overcoming an arm injury and leads Clemson in seven offensive categories, including batting average (.465) and home runs (18). The two-time USA Today Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top-10 finalist also boasts a 23-5 record and 1.20 ERA on the rubber, tallying a team-high 177 strikeouts while limiting opponents to a .177 batting average.
NiJaree Canady, P, Stanford
Canady has burst onto the college softball scene in a dominant way. Though only a freshman, the Kansas native leads the country with a 0.49 ERA in 99 innings pitched. The All-Pac-12 first team and freshman team honoree also finished the regular season pacing the conference in opponent batting average (.140), runs allowed (eight) and home runs allowed (one). Canady boasts a 14-1 record and leads Stanford’s pitchers with 168 strikeouts, which is an impressive feat when sharing time with three-time All-Pac-12 first team selection Alana Vawter. Being a freshman with 25 career appearances will work to her advantage in the postseason, for what she lacks in tournament experience, she can make up with dealing her dual-threat riseball.
Jayda Coleman, OF, Oklahoma
Where to start with the Sooners? When a team is consistently the best in the country as Gasso’s squad has been, it’s hard to narrow it down to one must-see player. USA Softball can’t even pick one, with five Sooners among the top 25 finalists for Collegiate Player of the Year and Coleman, Bahl and Tiare Jennings making the top 10. Let’s start at the leadoff spot with the Big 12 Player of the Year. On a team with eight players that have an OPS of at least 1.000, Coleman sets the pace with team-highs in on-base percentage (.562) and slugging percentage (.828). The three-time Big 12 first team selection is also tied for the team lead in hits (63) and paces Oklahoma in homers (a career-high 14), batting average (.434), stolen bases (14) and walks (35).
Montana Fouts, P, Alabama
The grad student has taken the Crimson Tide all the way to Oklahoma City twice before, and it’s unclear if a leg injury suffered in the SEC tournament against Arkansas will derail her chances at another postseason run. Fouts has shouldered more than half of the Tide’s pitching staff’s load, and her 213 1/3 innings pitched rank sixth nationally. When she’s on, she has proven to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. Fouts’ 311 strikeouts are most in the country, and her 7.97 strikeout-to-walk ratio is good for sixth-best nationally. The 6-foot-1 flamethrower, who is only two wins shy of the century mark, is 23-9 this season with 10 shutouts, including three no-hitters and two perfect games.
Baylee Klingler, 3B, Washington
Since leaving Texas A&M and transferring to Washington in 2020, Klingler has been the Huskies’ batting average champion for the past four seasons. The 2022 Pac-12 Player of the Year and three-time All-Pac-12 first-team selection finished the regular season ranked in the top three in conference average (.412), slugging percentage (.719), on base percentage (.513) and total bases (110). Her poise in the batter’s box sets her apart, impressively striking out only 24 times in four years with Washington. Her five Ks this season make her among the 11 toughest hitters to strike out in the country.
Sydney McKinney, SS, Wichita State
McKinney has certainly proven herself as an elite player, as the two-time AAC Player of the Year is poised to become the first in NCAA softball history to repeat as both the batting average and hits champion. The senior shortstop stands atop both categories nationally with 97 hits and .519 batting average, earning her a USA Today Collegiate Player of the Year Top-10 finalist spot. McKinney is a multi-tool player that brings speed (16 stolen bases), power (.727 slugging percentage) and run production (71 runs scored with 32 RBIs) to the Shockers’ leadoff spot. The four-time First Team All-AAC selection’s prowess on the dirt has been recognized at the professional level as well, going as the No. 1 overall selection in the Athletes Unlimited softball draft.
Kiki Milloy, OF, Tennessee
There are few bats in the NCAA tournament that threaten with as much power as Milloy’s does. The senior outfielder is having the best season of her career, highlighted by becoming the first player in Lady Vols history to hit 20 home runs in a single season. Her 23 long balls are good for best in the country. But the daughter of 15-year NFL veteran and four-time Pro Bowler Lawyer Milloy and two-time All-American track star Claudine Milloy packs a punch in other national offensive categories. Milloy, whose 34 stolen bases are most among all Power 5 batters, ranks in the top five nationally with a .568 on-base percentage (fifth), .979 slugging percentage (second) and 74 runs scored (first).
Skylar Wallace, SS, Florida
Wallace has been one of the most dynamic players in the country, recognized by being tabbed as SEC Player of the Year. A staple in coach Tim Walton’s lineup, the redshirt junior ranks in the top five nationally with 105 runs created, scoring 69 runs and driving in 55. The shortstop is having her best year at Florida since transferring from Alabama, leading the team in nine offensive categories, including her national-best 1.036 slugging percentage. The Collegiate Player of the Year Top-10 finalist brings speed (30 stolen bases), patience (49 walks) and power (eight triples, 19 home runs) to the top of the Gators’ lineup.