Defending State Team of the Year Mission Viejo is a no-brainer pick to start the 2017 season in a familiar position at No. 1 in the state. With the new competitive-equity Division I playoff format in the CIF Southern Section, however, it’s going to be tougher than ever for the Diablos to run the table in their final games. The highest ranked preseason teams that are not D1 in the CIFSS include Sheldon of Sacramento (No. 4), Freedom of Oakley (No. 6) and San Marcos (No. 8).
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Note: Preseason rankings based on evaluation of returning players, historical strength of program, projected strength of schedule and where the teams finished at the end of last season. Thanks also to Stockton office assistant editor Paul Muyskens for contributions to this post.
(Records listed from 2016 season)
1. Mission Viejo 27-4
Co-head coaches Troy Ybarra and Toni Mascarenas already were awarded a preseason national No. 1 ranking by FloSoftball earlier this week so being No. 1 in the state to start the spring is no surprise. The Diablos have eight returning starters among the nine who celebrated after winning the 2016 CIF Southern Section Division II title. Sure, they don’t have a super-dominant ace pitcher like Ms. Softball State Player of the Year Taylor McQuillin, but returnee Kyra Snyder (Louisville recruit) is one of the best and greatly improved since last season. The lineup also is potent and powerful, led by Oregon State-bound second baseman Camryn Ybarra, the co-coach’s daughter and the State Junior Player of the Year. All she did last season was hit .514 with 12 homers and 33 runs scored. No. 2 hitter Olivia Viggiano, a senior outfielder, also is back along with All-State Underclass Terra McGowan, a junior catcher/outfielder committed to Arizona State. McGowan had 10 homers and 32 RBI last season.
2. Lutheran (Orange) 30-4
We felt it was interchangeable between the Lancers and Norco for the No. 2 and No. 3 slots in the preseason. While Norco returns its entire team, OLu was just much closer to finishing No. 1 last season and would have were it not for a loss to league rival Mater Dei in the CIFSS D1 championship. Head coach Steve Miklos also has several big-time returnees, including four-year standout Maddy Dwyer. The Stanford-bound Dwyer went 26-3 last season with a 1.10 ERA and had 173 strikeouts. She also drove in 18 runs. While Trinity League MVP Mackenzie Boesel is gone (South Carolina), the next six top hitters from 2016 also are back. Sophomore Ciara Briggs (33 RBI), an LSU commit, senior catcher Lauren Espalin (32 RBI) and senior infielder Noelle Hee (31 RBI) are among that list.
3. Norco 26-6
In a way, it’s hard not to root for the Cougars to go all the way this season with a CIFSS D1 title and final No. 1 state ranking. They’ll be led in more ways than just the obvious by returning pitcher Taylor Dockins, who according to our friends at SoCalSidelines.com has recovered from a battle with liver cancer. Head coach Rick Robinson had one of the best groups of freshmen last season many in the SoCal region have ever seen and those girls will all be sophomores this spring. One of those frosh, catcher Kinzie Hansen, was selected as our State Freshman Player of the Year.
4. Sheldon (Sacramento) 30-2
It’s a loaded lineup returning for longtime Sheldon head coach Mary Jo Truesdale, who guided last year’s team to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title. “We’re very excited about the season and everybody is healthy and ready to go,” she said. “Once again we have a tough schedule but we feel it will help us prepare for the playoffs.” Pitcher Taliyah Miles is one of those back after she went 23-2 with a 1.78 ERA as a junior. UCLA-bound infielder Shea Moreno also returns after she batted .465 with 33 RBI as a sophomore. And by the way, the Huskies also have Sacramento Bee Co-Player of the Year Maci Fines. She hit .518 with 25 RBI and has signed with UC Santa Barbara.
5. Los Alamitos 26-3
Veteran head coach Rob Weil should have another team squarely in the mix for the top ranking all season. All three pitchers are back, including senior University of Maryland-bound ace Ryan Denhart. Senior Paige Austin and junior Brianna Jewett also had quality starts. Leading the lineup, meanwhile will be senior catcher Mary Iakopo. She’s signed with Oregon, but more significantly was one of just four California girls (current high schoolers) who were on last summer’s USA Junior National Team.
6. Freedom (Oakley) 19-3
Vanessa Strong pitched and hit the Falcons to last year’s CIF North Coast Section Division I title, but she’s not the only returnee. “Our whole team is healthy and returning, except Cheyenne Colburn, who graduated,” said Strong, who was the 2016 State Sophomore of the Year. “We have been training hard in preparation for the season. We have a few scrimmages coming up, and we kick off our season with the Tournament of Champions (TOC) in Arizona, March 9-11th.” While we love it that the Falcons have stepped up their schedule to play in the TOC, they’ll be at a disadvantage in that event because just about every other team in it already will have played a few games.
7. Amador Valley (Pleasanton) 21-5
Head coach Teresa Borchard welcomes back one of the top pitchers in the nation in junior Danielle Williams, who was the State Freshman of the Year in 2015 but had to be pegged behind sophomore Vanessa Strong from Freedom of Oakley last season since Strong led her team to the CIF North Coast Section Division I title. Most of the rest of the lineup besides the Missouri-bound Williams also is back. “Yes, everyone is returning and injury free,” Borchard said. “We have some JV players that will have an impact, particularly Kristin Saugus and Julia Camello. There’s also a freshman by the name of Val Torres-Colon who is a centerfield lefty slapper with a lot of speed.”
8. San Marcos 22-4-1
In the CIF San Diego Section last season, it was Eastlake of Chula Vista early on and then it looked for a while like 2015 champ Cathedral Catholic was going to repeat in the top division. At the end, though, a roster made up primarily of underclassmen grabbed the glory and now San Marcos is in a strong favorite role. The Knights have a big-time shortstop in junior Alexis Orosco, who hit .425 last season with 39 RBI, and a strong ace pitcher in junior Payton Tidd. She compiled a 1.18 ERA as a sophomore and had a 19-1 record.
9. Grand Terrace 28-1
The Titans won’t sneak up on anybody this year being in the Michelle Carew Classic not to mention having to play up in Division I of the CIF Southern Section. Head coach Bobby Flores needs to replace No. 1 pitcher Melanie Olmos, but if Yesenia Morrison (11-0, 0.52 ERA) comes through in that role then Grand Terrace could go all the way. The rest of the lineup is loaded, with North Carolina State-bound Lilly Bishop (.512, 35 RBI), Oklahoma-bound Eliyah Flores (.451, 8 HRs, 37 RBI) and Ole Miss-bound Alyssa Martinez (.379, 7 HRs).
10. Oaks Christian (Westlake Village) 30-2-1
Junior pitcher Lexi Berg is expected to step into more of a starring role for the Lions, whose key graduation loss is pitcher Marie Sobel. Head coach Pete Ackermann has standouts returning throughout the rest of the lineup, including University of Penn-bound standouts Kayla Ketring and Sara Ketring. Kayla, who hit .436 last year, was the VC Star Player of the Year. Also back is Miya Brady (one of the top freshmen in the state last season and committed to UCLA) along with senior Julia Spear (.302, 18 RBI).
11. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 21-4
The Monarchs had a smooth transition from former head coach Brian Yocke (now coaching baseball at the school) to Joe Gron as they reclaimed the CIF Central Coast Section Division II title in Gron’s first season. Gron used two primary pitchers and both Savanna Smith (9-1, 1.59 ERA) and Hannah Edwards (8-3, 2.30) will be back for their sophomore seasons. The cast of position players is mostly experienced as well. Junior Kaylin Stewart (.354, 17 RBI), senior Julia Lucas (.415) and senior Rebecca Ortiz (.344) lead that group.
12. Clovis 27-5
The Cougars start out in the top spot for the CIF Central Section after they were runner-up last season and champions the year before that. They just have a lot more back than defending section champ Buchanan. Junior pitcher Danielle Lung already has more than 400 career strikeouts over two seasons and a 43-5 career record. Two other returning Fresno Bee all-stars are junior catcher Jordyn Martinez and senior Mackenzie Byrd.
13. Gahr (Cerritos) 26-6-2
We have to admit we probably would not have had the Gladiators this high were it not for a talk we had about preseason rankings with Carlos Arias of SoCalSidelines. He probably will debut this team even higher in the SoCal Top 20, but in our system we need them to win some key games first before going too high. Gahr has great returnees, led by South Carolina-bound catcher/first baseman Alyssa Kumiyama and UCLA-bound infielder Maila Quarles. The big boost, however, comes from the transfer of Arizona-bound pitcher Vanessa Foreman, who pitched at Lakewood last season but had a huge summer on the travel ball circuit and could be one of the top pitchers in the nation.
14. Valencia 21-10
Is there a better battery in the state than Vikings’ pitcher Shea O’Leary (committed to Texas) and Vikings’ catcher Allysa Shipman (committed to Tennessee)? Valencia certainly will be looking for a deeper run in the CIFSS Division I playoffs this season after last season ended in the quarterfinals and returns most of the rest of the team in addition to O’Leary and Shipman, both juniors. Shortstop Noel Dominguez (another junior) is also committed to the College of Charleston.
15. Pioneer (San Jose) 25-3
Last season’s CIF CCS Division II runner-up to Archbishop Mitty of San Jose should once again be one of the top teams in the Bay Area after having just one senior on the roster last season. Leading the way in the circle will be senior Holly Azevedo, who was 25-3 last season with a 0.18 ERA and struck out 334 batters with 26 complete games. Azevedo, who is committed to UCLA, was the State Sophomore of the Year for 2015 and is a Ms. Softball State Player of the Year candidate. She also hit .482 with 20 runs batted in. Sydney Solis, meanwhile, had a team-high 28 runs batted in last season and was just a freshman while Brooke Niewoehner and Lauryn Garcia return for their senior seasons after both driving in over 20 runs last season.
16. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 27-7
Despite getting a new head coach and losing lots of talent from last season’s squad, the Monarchs always seem to be in the mix as one of the top teams in the state. Plus, when you’re No. 2 from the previous season and are the defending CIFSS Division I champions, starting out the next season at least somewhere in the top 20 makes sense. Senior Danielle Kahn is the leading returning pitcher as she was second on the team last season in innings pitched while going 7-3 with a 3.79 ERA. Syracuse-bound Neli Casares-Maher also was second on the team last season with 23 runs batted in while hitting .384 and LMU-bound Maddison Flores is back for her senior season after hitting .319 with 20 runs batted in and a team-high four home runs.
17. Alhambra (Martinez) 24-2
The Bulldogs put up runs in bunches last season on their way to the CIF NCS Division II championship and they will have two their two biggest bats back once again this season and five players that drove in at least 20 runs. Cal-bound senior Karlee Sparachino hit .620 with 57 runs batted in while UCLA-bound Briana Perez hit .613 with 40 runs batted in to combine for one of the scariest combinations in the state for opposing pitchers. While they do lose their top pitcher from last season, they do return junior Briana Edwards who was 6-0 with a 1.89 ERA last year. If the pitching can support that offense, it won’t take much for Alhambra to jump to the top the heap in the Bay Area.
18. Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 25-5-1
Our 2014 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year Margaret Mauro will once again have a talented Dons squad this season with nearly everyone back from last season. While they do lose Devyn Magnett in the circle, who was 15-3 last season, they still have junior Megan Faraimo. She went 10-2 with a 0.22 ERA and was a strikeout machine with 152 strikeouts in 93.2 innings pitched. Faraimo, one of the best juniors in the nation, also led the team last season with 28 runs batted in while hitting .433. Olivia Laqua and Raven LeClair also combined for 40 runs batted in and will be the rare seniors on the team this season.
19. Pacifica (Garden Grove) 20-6
While they won’t have All-CIF Southern Section Division I first team catcher Dejah Mulipola, the traditionally powerful Mariners will still have University of San Diego-bound senior Hannah Boos in the circle and a majority of their team that went undefeated in the Empire League. Other key players include Arizona-bound senior third baseman Hannah Martinez and Boise State-bound senior second baseman Alley Seng.
20. Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 18-8
Although the Broncos lose all-state player Tatum Edwards, they have one of the top Class of 2019 players returning in Candace Yingling, who has committed to Cal and had 10 homers with 41 RBI and a .541 batting average last season. Also back is pitcher Shealynn Ollison (15-5, 2.83 ERA) along with junior Anna Vines (.515) and senior Jocelynn De La Cruz (.461).
NEXT FIVE TEAMS
21. Buchanan (Clovis) 26-5
22. La Habra 29-2
23. Mater Dei Catholic (Chula Vista) 21-9
24. Foothill (Palo Cedro) 29-1
25. Benicia 23-7
10 MORE TEAMS ON THE BUBBLE
Huntington Beach 21-7
San Benito (Hollister) 26-3
Santiago (Corona) 21-6-1
South Hills (Covina) 22-8
St. Anthony (Long Beach) 19-6
Valley View (Moreno Valley) 27-2
Vista del Lago (Folsom) 24-6