It’s not as obvious at the top of the state like it was to start last season with Mission Viejo. Still, we love teams with big-time returning pitchers and that’s why we’re starting off with Pioneer of San Jose in the No. 1 position. The Mustangs, led by UCLA-bound Holly Azevedo, came close to going 30-0 last season. Defending CIF Southern Section champ Norco should be strong again and is beginning in the No. 2 slot. Go inside for writeups on top 25 preseason teams.
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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 (some writeups by Stockton office assistant editor Paul Muyskens; also received input from Eric-Paul Johnson of Riverside Press-Enterprise & Carlos Arias of OCSidelines.com; all listed with win-loss records for this year and we apologize in advance if there are early-season results from this year especially from CIF Central Section that have not yet been considered):
1. PIONEER (SAN JOSE) 29-1
The Mustangs gave up the only earned run they allowed last season with standout pitcher Holly Azevedo in the circle in their last game, but that prevented them from winning the CIF Central Coast Section Division II title in a heart-breaking loss to Archbishop Mitty. Both teams finished in the top 20 of the final FLOSOFTBALL FAB 50 national rankings, but Azevedo is back for her junior season. The leading candidate to be the 2016 Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball Player of the Year finished with a 28-1 record with a 0.04 ERA and had 256 strikeouts in 177 innings. She also raised her batting average to .381. Some of Pioneer’s top position players have graduated, but head coach Ernie Garcia also still has some others back, including infielder Mackenzie Drake. The San Jose State-bound senior also was All-CCS second team as a junior.
2. NORCO 27-8
Head coach Rick Robinson welcomes back six starters from last season’s CIF Southern Section Division I title team, including junior pitcher Taylor Dockins. She’s been a player well-known since her freshman season and came through down the stretch last season to finish 26-6 with a 1.32 ERA. Outfielder Naomi Hernandez (Long Beach State recruit) is another top position player to watch. Sophomore shortstop Mikayla Allee (committed to Tennessee) led a great group of freshmen last season and another big-time group is incoming. The best of that bunch is catcher Kinzie Hansen (committed to Oklahoma), who heads up the FloSports Softball Class of 2019 Hot 100. “We will be very young this year, so you never know how a season will go,” Robinson said. “However our youngsters are very talented so the sky is the limit for them.”
3. PACIFICA (GARDEN GROVE) 22-6-1
Last season the Mariners reached the CIFSS Division I quarterfinals before losing to the eventual champions from Norco and they will be right back in that mix once again this season led by last season’s Empire League Pitcher of the Year, junior Hannah Boos, who pitched nine scoreless innings against the Cougars before allowing runs in the 10th inning of their season-ending loss. While they do lose Faith Canfield, who is now at Michigan, they have a reported eight players that have signed or have committed to Division I colleges. Among those returnees are Arizona-bound catcher Dejah Mulipola, first baseman Jaymee Campbell and outfielder Alison Seng, who all were all-league selections last season. Pacifica’s non-league portion of its schedule has them team playing at the Best of the West Tournament to start the season before also playing in the Michelle Carew Classic.
4. AMADOR VALLEY (PLEASANTON) 24-3
Despite losing Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball State Player of the Year Johanna Grauer to graduation, the Dons won their second straight CIF North Coast Section Division I championship last season behind the pitching of Danielle Williams, who will be a big reason why the Dons will be tough to beat not only this season but for the next two seasons as well. Breaking into the high school ranks in a big way, Williams was 24-3 with a 0.98 ERA while also leading the team hitting at .531 with 41 hits on her way to being named as our Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman Player of the Year. There are other holes to fill in the lineup, but another key returnee is Courtney Dinelli, who is back for her junior season after hitting .276 with a fourth-best 24 hits on the year.
5. LUTHERAN (ORANGE) 25-4
Our friend Carlos Arias of the OCSidelines.com website really likes the Lancers and it’s easy to see why. Head coach Steve Miklos and his Lancers will have plenty of chances to capture championships this season and prove that they are among the best in the state. They play a tournament-filled schedule with four tournaments, including the Brea Olinda Tournament to open the year and the always important Michelle Carew Classic before the start of Trinity League play. Both of their pitchers return, led by Stanford-committed Maddy Dwyer, who as a sophomore was 19-4 with a 1.66 ERA and 152 strikeouts in 139 innings pitched. Including Dwyer, who hit .439 with 20 runs batted in, the Lancers return five of their top six for RBI. Senior MacKenzie Boesel hit .462 with eight home runs and 37 RBI to earn All-State Underclass First Team honors and junior Noelle Hee hit .456 with 23 runs batted in. A name to keep an eye out for this season will be freshman outfielder Ciara Briggs since she was ranked by FloSoftball in its Class of ’19 National Player Rankings as No. 21 in the Hot 100.
6. LOS ALAMITOS 25-7
All-State Underclass outfielder Jenna Holcomb leads a deep, experienced and talented squad with multiple D1 signers and commits. Holcomb, who also was Sunset League MVP, will be joined in the outfield by all-league picks Jenna Kean and Alexa Schultz. Others with all-league credentials already are first baseman Cami Sellers, second baseman Caitie Ladd and catcher/shortstop Mary Iakopo. Of the promising newcomers joining the team, watch out for third baseman Daisy Munoz (sophomore) and senior Allison Young (outfield).
7. MISSION VIEJO 30-1
While the Diablos will once again be among the top teams in the state, to start them as high as No. 1 in the state (which we have seen elsewhere) seems a bit high for a team that lost two of the top five players in the nation. Graduated Alyssa Palomino was a state player of the year finalist while Taylor McQuillin took home that honor as our Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball State Player of the Year before they both headed to play at Arizona. Among those back this season from last year’s one loss team that was one win away from finishing as the top team in the nation is junior Camryn Ybarra, who as a freshman committed to Oregon State and hit nine home runs last season. A pair of D1-bound pitchers set to make an impact in the circle are junior Kyra Snyder (Louisville) and senior Hanna Nilsen (Illinois). Mission will be playing in both the Dave Kops Tournament of Champions in Arizona and the Michelle Carew Classic.
8. GRAND TERRACE 26-4
Losing just one senior from last season’s team that lost in the CIFSS Division III championship game makes the Titans the choice at No. 2 behind Norco in the insanely competitive Inland Empire. They return tons of talent, including Sunkist League Pitcher of the Year and Oklahoma-bound senior Melanie Olmos, who was 23-4 in the circle with 143 strikeouts and a 1.46 ERA last season while also hitting .429. Olmos also isn’t the only returning talent headed to Oklahoma. Junior 3B Eliyah Flores earned league MVP honors last season after hitting .495 with 13 home runs and is also committed to the Sooners. Among the other key returners back is Ole Miss-committed junior SS Alyssa Martinez, who hit .400 last season, and junior infielder Morgan Parsons, who is committed to Hawaii, and hit .398 with nine home runs and 40 runs batted in.
9. ETIWANDA 23-9
The Eagles had their season come to an end with a loss in the second round of the CIFSS Division I playoffs last year but they return virtually everybody from that junior-heavy squad and will be that much tougher to beat this season. Briana Wheeler should lead the way in the circle after going 17-3 with a 1.31 ERA last year. Returning their top four in runs batted in last season, they also return a pair of powerful All-Baseline League bats with Megan Stevens who hit .462, and also was the No. 2 pitcher, and Vanessa Taukeiaho, who hit .456. Both Stevens and Taukeiaho also each hit 11 home runs during their junior years. Hailey Freeman also returns after hitting .447 with 35 runs batted in.
10. EAST UNION (MANTECA) 30-3
Head coach Brian Goulart’s Lancers won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship in dominating fashion last year and while they lose all-state outfielder Cherish Burks (now at Oregon), everybody else is back. Both of the pitchers last season were just sophomores – Valley Oak League Pitcher of the Year Delaney Pamplin (15-1, 1.17 ERA) and Mikayla Bongi (15-2, 1.71 ERA. University of the Pacific-bound senior Samantha Owen should lead the offense after she hit .643 with nine home runs and 62 runs batted in to earn All-State Underclass first team honors. Junior Alexis Erich hit 10 home runs as a sophomore while hitting .644 with 59 runs batted in. Putting a D3 team No. 1 overall in the SJS is not a problem, but if East Union wants to legitimately rise into the top five overall in the state the schedule needed to be strengthened and it wasn’t.
11. YUCAIPA 31-3
It’s always the rule that a team that was No. 1 in the state – and in the Thunderbirds’ case No. 1 in the nation according to the FloSports Softball FAB 50 – will start the following season somewhere in the preseason state rankings. Yucaipa does lose a strong core of seniors from last season, led by pitcher Brook Bolinger, but returns catcher Kelly Martinez, who was first team all-state and first team All-CIFSS. The infield should be solid as well with third base Megan Martin, shortstop Mallorie Cross and first base Maddy Marvulli. Head coach David Kivett also raves about outfielder Keely Clark. “No matter what, Keely gives you 100 percent effort,” Kivett said. “She has a great and positive attitude.”
12. ALHAMBRA (MARTINEZ) 25-3
The Bulldogs are coming off a season that saw them capture their second straight CIF NCS Division II championship despite having just one senior on their team. While that one missing player will be the graduated Shelby Clemons in the circle (21-2, 1.10 ERA), all that did was prevent the team from being ranked even higher. Whichever pitcher who emerges should get plenty of run support since there will be five players back who posted more than 20 RBI last season. Oregon commit Karlee Sparacino, who hit .448 with 45 RBI, and UCLA commit Brianna Perez, who hit .608 with 14 home runs and 42 RBI, both return for their junior year.
13. CATHEDRAL CATHOLIC (SAN DIEGO) 27-8
Our 2014 State Coach of the Year, Margaret Mauro, has a great mix of pitching and position players returning from last season when the Dons were among the best in the CIF San Diego Section. Both senior Devyn Magnett and sophomore Megan Faraimo were the co-Players of the Year in their league last season and both have experience against top-level competition. Mauro also has up-the-middle strength since also coming back are sophomore catcher Jacey Bourgeois, junior shortstop Olivia La Qua and junior outfielder Raven LeClair.
14. SHELDON (SACRAMENTO) 24-7
It was great visiting with Sheldon head coach Mary Jo Truesdale at last May’s CIF 100-year anniversary event and if things go well she might be partying later in May this year as well. The Huskies do have a No. 1 pitcher to replace, but have D1-bound Taliyah Miles (a junior) ready to step up after she was brought up from the junior varsity for the playoffs. What really makes Sheldon stand out is its infield of shortstop Jordan Fines (Cal), third baseman Shea Moreno (UCLA) and second baseman Maci Fines (UC Santa Barbara). Catcher Jessica Scott also should have a strong season. “This team is as deep a team as Sheldon has ever had,” Truesdale said. “It has good chemistry with strong upperclass leadership.”
15. CLOVIS 33-6
Last year’s CIF Central Section Division I champion had more than half of its team as seniors who are now gone, but the big returnee for this season is sophomore Danielle Lung. She finished her freshman season by throwing a no-hitter in the section finals to finish the season 21-1 in the circle. One player other back this season on offense for head coach Mike Noel is senior infielder Alyssa Caballero. She hit the game-winning home run in the section finals. Clovis captured its eighth section championship since 1991, six of those coming under Noel in his 21 seasons.
16. SAUGUS 15-14
Never mind the record from last season because for most of the season the Centurions were without Oklahoma-bound pitcher Mariah Lopez. She’s back from shoulder surgery and if she’s going well she’ll be one of the top pitchers in the nation. Head coach Julie Archer also has just about everyone else back, including second baseman Cayla Kessinger, shortstop Lindsay Clare and third baseman Ty Cueva. Of the newcomers, watch out for Clarissa Ellwein and Annalise Perez. “We do have a good mix of experience and newcomers,” Archer said. “And having Mariah on the mound will help us compete with the best.”
17. ELK GROVE 28-4
During last season’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II runner up finish the Thundering Herd was led in the circle by Courtney Riley, who went 14-2 with a 1.41 ERA and Miranda Miles, who was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and they both return for their senior seasons looking for a better finish to the year. Miles will also be the team’s leading returning as she hit .443 last season with a second-best 23 runs batted in. Riley was not far behind as she hit .375 with 22 runs batted in. Miranda Rodriguez also returns for her senior season after hitting .507 with 18 runs scored and 15 runs batted in.
18. HUNTINGTON BEACH 18-10
Like a few other teams that are ranked ahead of them, the Oilers return almost everybody from last year’s roster. They had just two seniors who played small roles for squad that reached the CIFSS Division I second round. Senior Alyssa Horeczko was one of four to pitch last season as she was the team leader in innings pitched with 116.1 as she struck out 124 batters and was 10-4 with a 2.29 ERA. The team’s balanced offense saw eight players record at least 10 RBI last year led by senior Stanford-bound Kristina Inouye, who hit .432 with six home runs and 26 runs batted in. Sophomore Allee Bunker made her high school debut by hitting .433 with 24 runs batted in.
19. SANTIAGO (CORONA) 28-4
Any team led by legendary head coach John Perez is pretty much going to be placed somewhere within the preseason state rankings. The Sharks won the Big VIII League title last year over eventual CIFSS D1 champ Norco and will be led by senior outfielder Hannah Howell, who has signed with Arizona State. There are holes to fill, but the lineup should get a big boost after April 4 when transfers become eligible. For Santiago, sophomore Brittany Allen (committed to Florida) and junior Abby Robertson are in that group and should make a huge impact.
20. ARCHBISHOP MITTY (SAN JOSE) 27-3
Led by new head coach Joe Gron, who previously coached at Leland, the Monarchs lose a good amount of talent from last year’s team but it’s hard to not expect them to reload. Mitty has not lost more than four games in a season for the last nine years. Junior Rebecca Ortiz is the team’s leading returning batter as she hit .269 with 20 runs batted in last season while senior Lindsey Goubeaux hit .370 with 16 runs batted in. All 27 wins were recorded last season from two pitchers who’ve both graduated. That’s the biggest questionmark for Gron, but new coaches also haven’t tended to stop Mitty from being very good year after year after year.
21. LA COSTA CANYON (CARLSBAD) 25-5
The CIF San Diego Section is getting a bad reputation for comical Open Division playoff pairings in all sports and last season when the Mavericks were not in its Open Division was one of its worst examples. They were one of the section’s top overall teams in any common sense method of looking at the information but went to Division II and as expected rolled to the section title. LCC has just about everyone back this season, led by returning all-section pitcher Shannon Hennessy (22 wins). Two of the team’s top returning position players are infielder Riley Casper (.333, 4 HRs) and outfielder Megan Ruiz (
22. MURRIETA VALLEY (MURRIETA) 26-7
Twin sisters Amber and Autumn Bishop won’t be able to ease the graduation loss of pitcher Olivia Sanchez, but their return still makes the Nighthawks too hard to resist as a preseason ranked squad. Amber Bishop, a senior infielder, batted .595 with 12 homers and 51 RBI last season. Autumn Bishop, a senior outfielder, hit .495 with seven homers and 44 runs scored. If head coach coach Sean Parks gets some pitching, the lineup that also includes Arizona State-bound infielder Danielle Gibson should produce more than enough runs.
23. BUCHANAN (CLOVIS) 26-8
There really are any of three teams that could start on top in the CIF Central Section. We went with defending D1 champ Clovis (above at No. 15) and then placed the Bears here. Central of Fresno is the third of those teams and is on the bubble. Buchanan has just about everyone back, led by Ohio State-bound outfielder Spencer Sansom and Nebraska-bound catcher Anni Raley. The pitching also is strong with Molly Millar and Katie January. When she doesn’t pitch, January shines in the outfield and at the plate. “Obviously with so many returners, I am excited about the prospects for the season, but that being said the game is played on the field,” head coach Dean Gregory said. “ Anything can happen.”
24. CHINO HILLS 24-8
Head coach Mike Southworth is down to just two more years with at least one Snow sister on the squad. With Tannon now at Washington, Taylon is still going as a junior. She has already been All-State Underclass twice and already has 131 hits in prep career. She also leads another top-level group at Chino Hills. Pitching questions prevented a possible higher ranking, but Southworth is looking for good things from Brooke Johnson (a freshman who also plays first base) and Alexis Medina (a sophomore). Third baseman MiKayla Rubin also is back and already has at least all-league credentials. “We will hit with anybody,” Southworth said. “Pitchers are young with very good potential and if they develop we could be very good.”
25. NEWARK MEMORIAL (NEWARK) 21-6
For the No. 3 spot in the NCS behind Amador Valley and Alhambra, we’re starting off with the Cougars, who ended the six-year run of James Logan (Union City) in the Mission Valley Athletic League last season and then lost in the NCS D2 semifinals 2-1 to Alhambra. Pitching ace Jiana Rojo and San Jose State-bound infielder Maricela Matos are among the returnees for head coach Rachel Kahoalii.
25 MORE TEAMS ON THE BUBBLE
•Canyon (Anaheim) 23-8
•Carlmont (Belmont) 22-6
•Castro Valley 22-6
•Central (Fresno) 35-8
•Del Campo (Fair Oaks) 21-10
•Foothill (Pleasanton) 18-8
•Gahr (Cerritos) 24-8
•Great Oak (Temecula) 17-7
•La Habra 19-9
•Los Altos 21-9
•Los Osos (Rancho Cucamonga) 21-13
•M.L. King (Riverside) 18-9
•Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 19-10
•Notre Dame (Salinas) 25-5
•Oaks Christian (Westlake Village) 25-7
•Patrick Henry (San Diego) 23-5-1
•Redwood (Larkspur) 27-3
•South Hills (Covina) 20-8
•West Ranch (Valencia) 28-6
•Woodcreek (Roseville) 25-3-1