We have 25 elite teams pegged in order with writeups for each, led by obvious No. 1 Mission Viejo. The Diablos weren’t obvious at No. 1 at the end of last season, but unbeaten No. 2 Amador Valley may be rebuilding.
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Here is a breakdown at this year’s preseason State Top 25 rankings for California softball with 20 more teams on the bubble (all listed with win-loss records for this year and we apologize in advance if there are early-season results from this year that have not yet been considered):
1. MISSION VIEJO 26-1
The Diablos need to replace a few key position players, especially all-state second team infielder Alysha Everett, but there’s more than enough returning to make them an easy choice to start out 2015 with the state and nation’s No. 1 ranking. The University of Arizona duo of Taylor McQuillin and Alyssa Palomino are both Ms. Softball State Player of the Year candidates – McQuillin actually was runner-up as a junior – and have the squad primed to win another CIF Southern Section Division II title. It’s just too bad they aren’t D1, but they will play in more than enough big-time tournaments to prove their worth. McQuillin went 25-1 with 316 strikeouts in 173 2/3 innings last season. She also had four no-hitters, two perfect games and batted .323 at the plate. Palomino crushed 17 homers as a junior (one off her total of 18 from the season before) with a .506 average, 34 RBI and 36 runs scored.
2. ARCHBISHOP MITTY (SAN JOSE) 30-1
It’s not as clear-cut to start out the Monarchs in the No. 2 spot. They could get hopped at some point by a SoCal squad that plays a tougher schedule, but for now it’s hard to beat their combination of program tradition (seven Central Coast Section titles in nine years), returning strength (seven starters) and pitching (both Desiree Severance and Stephanie Kristo have won big games before). Head coach Brian Yocke does have to replace All-American infielder Jazmyn Jackson (now at Cal) but still has one of the state’s top outfielders in Danielle Bowers.
3. NORCO 24-7
We hear from Riverside Press-Enterprise writer Eric Paul-Johnson that the Cougars have a phenomenal freshman class, but it’s not like head coach Rick Robinson already didn’t have a very strong group coming back. Sophomore pitcher Taylor Dockins was one of the state’s top freshmen in 2014 and senior catcher Abby Lockman is headed to Tennessee. Norco also has established itself as one of the top programs in the nation. The Cougars were No. 1 in the nation three years ago and in 2013 had the Ms. Softball State Player of the Year in Kylie Reed.
4. PACIFICA (GARDEN GROVE) 29-4-1
Right behind Norco and also definitely looking like winning a second straight CIFSS Division I championship could happen is the Mariners. Northwestern-bound pitcher Kaley Winegarner makes the loss of pitching ace Kaylee Carlson to North Carolina easier to deal with while the batting lineup should remain potent despite All-American Nicole Dewitt gone to Florida. Michigan signer Faith Canfield is back after hitting .402 as a junior. Current juniors Dejah Mulipola (.313) and Irieanna Naea (.416) also return.
Orange County & Riverside County rightfully get their due as softball hotbeds in the state, but historically the Marmonte League of Ventura County also can compete with the best of them and this year the Musketeers have a squad from there that could be special. It all starts with All-American and two-year all-state pick Amanda Lorenz. The Florida commit rapped out 68 hits and had a .642 average last season. Also returning is pitcher-hitter Kassidy Simons. She went 21-1 in the circle as a junior with a 1.14 ERA and blasted 12 homers.
6. VACAVILLE 29-1-1
Junior pitcher Katie Kibby is among the returnees for the Bulldogs and all she did as a sophomore was go 29-1 with a 0.62 ERA. Other regulars are back, although Ms. Softball State Player of the Year finalist Julia DePonte is not one of them. Another reason we’re not starting Vacaville perhaps as high as they could be – the girls last year after all were close to being an unbeaten CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 champion – is that their schedule doesn’t show any games this year from outside of the section.
7. MURRIETA VALLEY (MURRIETA) 22-8
Only one starter is gone from last season’s team that probably would have gone further in the CIFSS Division I playoffs had it not run into eventual finalist M.L. King in the second round. Graduated Lacey Alderman was the squad’s ace last year, but BYU-bound Olivia Sanchez is back. She was the Nighthawks’ No. 1 pitcher two seasons ago. Also returning are Amber Nelson (Colorado State), Celeste Franco (DePaul), Danielle Gibson (Arizona State) and Lindsey Kuss (Yale).
8. CANYON (ANAHEIM) 20-7
Eight starters are back for the Comanches, including pitcher Hailey Hilburn and infielder Paulina Anasis. They also always play one of the best schedules in the nation and this year there will be appearances at the Arizona TOC, Best of the West at Pacifica and of course in their own Michelle Carew Classic.
9. CENTENNIAL (BAKERSFIELD) 28-4
The Golden Hawks won the CIF Central Section Division I championship last season and are loaded with returning starters. Topping the list is senior Madison Aurin, who batted .533 with a 10-0 pitching record and 1.32 ERA for the Golden Hawks as a junior and was the Bakersfield Californian’s player of the year. Another good sign that Centennial will be good is it will be a seeded team in this year’s Michelle Carew Classic where it will play some of the top teams from the CIF Southern Section.
10. AMADOR VALLEY (PLEASANTON) 27-0
If we were going only by how much was lost from last year’s team that was No. 2 in the final state and national rankings (but to be fair No. 1 in the final MaxPreps Xcellent 25) then it would be hard to include the Dons at all. Almost everyone from Ms. Softball Player of the Year Johanna Grauer and the top three other hitters besides her have graduated. Still, we always will rank a team that was so memorable as the Dons were last year for the following preseason until that team starts losing games on the field. Key returnees that are back include seniors Sammy Salustri (.307) and Kaitlynn Moore (.263).
11. SANTIAGO (CORONA) 24-7
With head coach John Perez continuing to lead the program, the Sharks can always be considered a threat in Southern California. This year’s team projects to be one of his best offensively, led by senior Rachel Minogue and her .490 average from last year and 28 RBI. Also back is senior Nichole Fry (.467, 43 RBI) and junior Hannah Howell (.394, 27 runs). If one or two of the returning pitchers steps up to be a legit No. 1 ace against other No. 1 pitchers, then Santiago could be heading toward the top of the state rankings.
12. LOS ALAMITOS 21-13
This is one of those teams that makes your head spin with all of its returning talent, but with 13 losses from last season we also aren’t going to just hand off a top five state ranking, either. It’s kind of the opposite of Amador Valley. But if the Griffins start winning early and are as good as many think they’ll be, the higher rankings will then come. Leading returnees include senior pitcher Katya Duvall (Ohio State), sophomore outfielder Alexa Schultz (Oklahoma), junior outfielder Jenna Holcomb (Tennessee) and sophomore shortstop Mary Iakopo (Oregon).
13. CHINO HILLS 29-6
With the phenomenal Snow sisters still around, the Huskies still have a look of a team that can go far this season. We were just a little reluctant to put them way up there due to the loss of No. 1 pitcher Patricia Parks. Head coach Mike Southworth thinks he still has an excellent No. 1 in Savanna Corr, a Sacramento State recruit who has gone 24-3 in two seasons. Senior Tannon Snow (Washington) and sophomore Taylon Snow (Washington) are two of the best players in the nation.
14. PIONEER (SAN JOSE) 24-5
The Mustangs lost to Mitty in last year’s CCS Division II championship but have one of the most stacked squads in the Bay Area coming into 2015. Sophomore pitcher Holly Azevedo leads the returnees and has committed to UCLA. She had a 0.83 ERA as a freshman. The top two hitters from last year also return – junior Makenzie Drake (.511) and junior Alexandra Luna (.476).
15. SAUGUS 20-10
Mariah Lopez, the No. 1 recruit in the nation according to FullCountSoftball.com and headed to Oklahoma, tops a great group for head coach Julie Archer. Lopez, a pitcher, will be joined by other returnees such as junior Cayla Kessinger (Missouri), junior shortstop Lindsay Clare (San Diego) and senior catcher Kaela Morrow (Portland State).
16. CATHEDRAL CATHOLIC (SAN DIEGO) 29-3
Our 2014 State Coach of the Year, Margaret Mauro, guided a young team to the CIF San Diego Section Division I title last season and should have a better squad this spring. Seven starters are back for the Dons, led by junior pitcher Devyn Magnett (Long Beach State). Mauro also is counting on big things from senior first baseman Tierra Falo (Long Beach State) and senior third base Sarai Niu (Mississippi State).
17. VALLEY CHRISTIAN (SAN JOSE) 21-8
With the graduation of Amador Valley’s Johanna Grauer to UCLA, the Warriors may have the heir apparent as the Bay Area’s No. 1 ace with Brynn Fitzpatrick. The Cal-bound hurler had a 0.60 ERA last season with 381 Ks in 186 innings and in one game she and her team beat Archbishop Mitty. Valley Christian’s leading hitter from last season, senior Marcella Kay, who had 37 hits and a .425 average, also returns.
The Colts don’t play the greatest schedule around but they are a legit team and are favored to win another CIF L.A. City Section crown. Briana Tautalafua is back after smashing 19 homers with 60 RBI and a .563 average. Two other major mashers should be Aneisa Maulupe (..549 with 13 HRs, 45 RBI) and Hillary Edior (.539, 9 HRs, 48 RBI).
19. YUCAIPA 24-5
Brooke Bolinger has one more year to go for the Thunderbirds and when the University of Nevada signer has her “A” game working, she’s very hard to hit. Yucaipa also has a lot more coming back off of a team that went 22-5 last season. Junior Kelly Martinez hit eight homers and batted .419. Junior Mallorie Cross batted .434 and was second on the team in hits.
20. SAN BENITO (HOLLISTER) 23-4-1
Everybody is back for the Balers, who had their run of eight straight CCS titles stopped last season. With Mitty, Pioneer and Valley Christian all in lower divisions, San Benito may return to dominance in CCS D1 with returnees such as senior pitcher Adriana Ibarra and junior infielder Callee Heen, the Monterey Bay League-Gabilan MVP.
21. POWAY 21-9
We almost went with the Titans as the preseason team to beat for the CIF San Diego Section, but too much returns at Cathedral Catholic, last year’s best. Poway will be led by one of the top prospects for the Class of 2016 – junior pitcher Kourtney Shaw, who has committed to Cal. Only one senior in all was on the team’s roster last season.
22. LUTHERAN (ORANGE) 21-10
Maddie Dwyer was one of the top freshmen in the state last season with a 1.86 ERA in the circle in 22 starts plus a .385 batting average. Just two players in all graduated and the other returnees include junior Adrianna Millan (.423) and junior Mackenzie Boesel (six homers, 27 RBI).
23. CLOVIS 29-4
Nine starters return for longtime head coach Mike Noel, whose team reached the CIF Central Section D1 semifinals last season. Senior shortstop Cayla Broussard was All-State Underclass while senior pitcher Brielle Vidmar started as a freshman.
24. LA SERNA (WHITTIER) 28-4
All-State Underclass pick Jamie Wren was the Whittier Daily News Player of the Year after leading the Lancers to a runner-up finish in the CIFSS D3 playoffs. With defending champion St. Paul hit harder by graduation plus its head coach leaving, La Serna also could step up with just three players off its roster that need to be replaced.
25. BURBANK 24-4
We thought about putting both Burbank and Highland of Palmdale in the State Top 25 due to the return of State Player of the Year candidates Kaitlin Brooks of the Bulldogs and Rachel Garcia of Highland. Burbank does have just a bit more back, though, with all starters returning except one.
20 MORE TEAMS ON THE BUBBLE
•Alhambra (Martinez) 25-2
•Carondelet (Concord) 15-13
•East Union (Manteca) 25-4
•Great Oak (Temecula) 14-12
•Highland (Palmdale) 22-4
•James Logan (Union City) 23-3
•Los Osos (Rancho Cucamonga) 26-5
•M.L. King (Riverside) 27-6
•Notre Dame (Salinas) 26-3
•Patrick Henry (San Diego) 24-6
•Santa Monica 25-8
•Sheldon (Sacramento) 20-11
•Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 21-9