Adding a transfer into the pitching circle is all Norco needed for another legitimate run at state and national titles. The Cougars have almost everyone else back from last season’s 33-1 squad. This year’s preseason rankings also have three CIF San Diego Section teams in the top 10, two rivals from the same city in the top two positions for teams from Northern California and some tough choices about where to put highly ranked teams from last season that suffered significant graduation losses.
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(Preseason rankings listed with win-loss record from last season)
1. Norco 33-1
When we last left the Cougars, they were heartbroken about losing in the CIF Southern Section Division I final to a Los Alamitos team they had defeated twice earlier in the season. Gone was a mythical national title and consideration as one of the state’s all-time top five greatest teams. That’s how dominant they were during the season. Pitcher/hitter Taylor Dockins regardless was the Ms. Softball State Player of the Year and even though she has graduated the Norco lineup is stacked with returnees. In fact, everyone is back except Dockins. Plus, head coach Rick Robinson has picked up sophomore ace and Washington commit Sarah Willis from nearby Chino Hills Ayala via a transfer. With Willis filling the void to some degree of Dockins — nobody is like her as a leader — there’s no doubt that the Cougars as hard as it sounds might be even better than last season. State Sophomore of the Year Kinzie Hansen (Oklahoma) and infielders Mikayla Allee (Ole Miss) and Paige Smith (also Ole Miss) are just a few of the regulars that are back.
2. Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 27-5-1
In looking over the teams from Southern California, we can’t remember a year when the CIF San Diego Section was this strong. At least on paper. The Dons were the San Diego Open Division titlists last season and feature Megan Faraimo, one of the top pitchers in the nation. The UCLA-bound Faraimo, who was the Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year, posted a 27-1 record with a 0.60 ERA. Cathedral Catholic also has a number of other top returnees, including catcher Jacey Boureois (Long Beach State) and infielder Sara Rusconi (Univ. of San Diego). And of course the Dons have Margaret Mauro, one of the winningest head coaches in state history.
3. San Marcos 24-6
They aren’t the defending San Diego Open champs, but for much of last season the Knights were the top-ranked team in the section and the entire roster is back. They also were pushing toward the top five in the state too. Leading the way for head coach Steve Tidd is his daughter, Payton Tidd, who went 20-3 in the circle with a 0.82 ERA. Senior Alexis Orozco is another All-American candidate. She has 26 career homers to start the season (already on the all-time state list) and hit .404 as a junior. One of the most highly regarded incoming freshmen in the state, infielder Cydney Sanders, just adds even more to the mix.
4. Los Alamitos 28-3
The Griffins grabbed the final No. 1 state ranking after their win over Norco in the CIFSS D1 championship. The list of those who graduated is long and includes pitcher Ryan Denhart and All-American catcher Mary Iakopo. But head coach Rob Weil has often had top college prospects waiting to step up and that should be the case again. If junior Sarah Ladd can become a solid No. 1 pitcher, Los Al will have a potent lineup backing her up. That includes shortstop Kaitln Parsons (Tennessee) and infielder Danielle Lew (Nevada). A transfer also may make a big difference since infielder Daisy Munoz (Cal State Fullerton) hit 10 homers and batted .542 one year ago at Kennedy of La Palma.
5. Foothill (Pleasanton) 26-4
We went over it several times and ran it several different ways, but kept coming back to the same 1-2 punch to start the season in Northern California and that’s with arch-rivals Foothill and Amador Valley (both of Pleasanton) in those positions. Foothill won its first CIF North Coast Section D1 title in 10 years in 2017 and had only three seniors that graduated. The Falcons have star power with sophomore Nicole May, the Oklahoma-bound State Freshman of the Year who had a 0.84 ERA and 293 strikeouts last season. Infielder Hope Alley (Pittsburgh) and sophomore catcher Courtney Beaudin both look like major honors candidates as well. Head coach Matt Sweeney also is back despite retiring as a longtime head football coach at Foothill. When you see the players he has for possibly the next three seasons, not sure too many coaches would leave, either.
6. Amador Valley (Pleasanton) 23-5
The Dons were 12-1 in the difficult East Bay Athletic League last season compared to 10-3 for Foothill, but it was Foothill that won it all in the NCS playoffs. And with pitcher Danielle Williams coming back for her senior season and with other key returnees, the Amador-Foothill race could easily flip toward Amador’s way in an instant. Williams, a Northwestern recruit, went 17-1 with a 0.34 ERA as a junior and has been one of the top pitchers in California since she was a freshman. She also batted .382 with three homers. One of those others also back is sophomore infielder Valeria Torres-Colon (.437 with three homers).
7. Santiago (Corona) 23-7
While the Sharks may not be quite up to Norco’s level, they should be back to being one of the top teams in Southern California and will give the Cougars a run in the Big VIII League. Only one top hitter from last season is gone plus there’s a Pac-12 bound pitcher in Shelby Macias (Oregon State). Incoming freshman pitcher Savannah Hooks also is listed with a commitment to UCLA. Santiago’s top honors candidate is infielder Brittany Allen, who is headed to Florida with numbers of .422 and six homers from last season.
8. Valencia 24-8
There’s probably not a team in America with battery quite like Shea O’Leary in the circle and Ally Shipman behind the plate. O’Leary, signed by Texas, had a 1.22 ERA with 240 strikeouts last season. Shipman, signed by Tennessee, smashed 15 homers and had a .613 average. The Vikings will need others, of course, to step up to go far in the loaded CIFSS D1 playoffs. Two to watch are shortstop Noelle Dominguez and outfielder Kelia Paragas.
9. Mater Dei Catholic (Chula Vista) 24-8
This is a third team from the CIF San Diego Section that figures to not only be close to Cathedral Catholic and San Marcos but also at an elite level compared to anywhere in the state. The Crusaders have two UCLA-bound players on the roster — pitcher/hitter Lexi Sosa, a senior who hit .425 last year and had a 2.08 ERA; and infielder Alyssa Garcia, a junior who batted .493 with 30 RBI. Just about everyone else also returns, including infielder Destinee Noury (Oklahoma) and infielder Alana Burges-Campbell (San Jose State).
10. Clovis 25-6
Veteran head coach Mike Noel and senior pitcher Danielle Lung will be going for their third CIF Central Section Division I title in the last four years. Lung went 21-1 as a freshman, 21-1 as a sophomore and then 24-4 last year with a 1.04 ERA and 263 strikeouts. She is headed to Fresno State. The Cougars have other key returnees as well, including catcher Jordyn Martinez.
11. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 22-8
We could have just as easily placed Orange Lutheran as the highest ranked preseason team out of the Trinity League, but the Monarchs have just a bit more back. All-State Underclass outfielder Emma Clark (Notre Dame) isn’t the only big-time offensive player in the lineup. Mater Dei can shake up any opponent with the speed from infielder Kelli Godin (UCLA) and junior outfielder Nyomi Jones (Tennessee). Godin and Jones both hit over .420 last season. The pitching doesn’t include a beast like some other teams in the State Top 25, but Mackensie Kohl (14-4, 2.26) may get the job done.
12. Sheldon (Sacramento) 30-2
The Huskies are one of those teams that lost a lot — which is why they aren’t in the top 10 — but also had several promising youngsters last season. They still look like the preseason pick in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, where they’ve won the D1 title the last three years and have won eight in all under SJS Hall of Fame coach Mary Jo Truesdale. UCLA-bound infielder Shea Moreno (38 RBI) is the leading returnee. Two freshmen from last season who both could be among the top sophs in Northern California this year are Sam Oliver (.405, 4 HRs) and Kiannah Pierce (.412).
13. Oaks Christian (Westlake Village) 26-6-1
It was a big summer for junior infielder Maya Brady, according to our friend Brentt Eads of the new ExtraInning national softball site. Brady elevated herself to a top five spot for the Class of 2019 national recruits. But the UCLA-bound Brady isn’t the only reason to like the Lions. Other than losing the talented Ketring sisters (Sarah & Kayla), everybody else is back. Lexi Berg can be a force in the circle, Kaitlin Simonsgaard hit .433 last season and Felicia Quesada hammered eight home runs.
14. Lutheran (Orange) 27-5
Departed pitcher Maddie Dwyer was such a strong presence over her career with the Lancers that it may take awhile for them to playing without her. There were other top-notch seniors last season, but the lineup still looks potent with junior outfielder Ciara Briggs ((.369), junior infielder Maya Rodriguez (.446) and infielder Kira La Scola (.379). If the pitching comes through, OLu has the rest of the ingredients to be an elite squad.
15. Murrieta Mesa (Murrieta) 24-10
This is one of those teams that won a lower division title in the CIFSS (in its case D3) but is returning the entire roster. We weren’t going to start the Rams ahead of Norco and Corona Santiago in the Inland Empire but they should be outstanding and it’ll be interesting to see how they do in D1 this season. Autumn Pease leads the way with a 1.26 ERA, 257 strikeouts and a .394 batting average. Sophomore Presleigh Pilon (LSU) would have been an all-state freshman for sure if we picked one after last season. Sophomore first baseman Lauren Randle might have been one too.
16. Stockdale (Bakersfield) 29-2
The Mustangs are a threat to upend Clovis in the CIF Central Section. They will be led once again by the Hornbuckle sisters, senior Cheyanne and sophomore Sydney. Cheyanne (Kansas) hit .489 as a junior with four homers. Sydney (Colorado State) went 20-2 as a pitcher with a 0.75 ERA. Katalyn Hornbuckle, Sydney’s twin sister, is another player to watch.
17. Rio Mesa (Oxnard) 25-3-1
Speaking of freshmen last year like Presleigh Pilon and Sydney Hornbuckle, this team had a great one as well. Alicia Estrada pitched eight no-hitters and three perfect games to get on the state and national radar and has committed to Utah. The Spartans are loaded in other ways too. Three return who all batted over .450 — infielder Sabrina Vargas (.465, 35 runs); oufielder Kianna Abellera (.460, 40 RBI) and outfielder Hailey Jackson (.457). Jackson also has been reported as a Loyola-Marymount pledge.
18. Watsonville 24-4
The Wildcatz made history last season by winning the CIF Central Coast Section Division I title and only lost two players off of the roster. That was viewed as just a bit better than perennial power Archbishop Mitty, which won the CCS D2 title. Catcher Juliana Wilson shined as a junior with a .608 average and eight homers. Her dad, head coach Scott Wilson, also will be counting on Jessica Rodriguez once again as the No. 1 pitcher. Rodriguez is headed to UNLV and is coming off of a 22-win, 0.80 ERA campaign.
19. Santa Margarita (Rancho SM) 24-6
Head coach John Fitzpatrick looks like will have the returning strength to make a run at Mater Dei and Orange Lutheran in the Trinity League. Pitcher Paige Vargas was the top pitcher f or the team last season and showed she could beat top-tier opponents. The Eagles also welcome back shortstop Miranda Johnson, a junior (.517) headed to Notre Dame, and outfielder Marisa Pla, a senior (.412) headed o Seton Hall.
20. Camarillo 27-3
Last year’s CIFSS D2 champs lost a good chunk of the offense, but the pitcher who sparked that title run, sophomore Eryka Gonzales, is among those returning. Gonzales, a Cal-State Northridge commit, went 20-2 with a 2.36 ERA. Outfielder Sarah Urrea (.415) also is back while pitcher Chloe Nighingale (Utah State) is another to watch.
21. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 22-6
Head coach Joe Gron had the luxury last season of having two pitchers who could shut down the opposition and that helped the Monarchs win the CCS D2 title. Those two — juniors Hannah Edwards and Savanna Smith — both won 11 games. Edwards also hit for a .391 average with 22 RBI. Mitty does lose four very productive seniors from its lineup but the tradition of the program tends to produce girls who are ready to jump into more prominent roles every season.
22. James Logan (Union City) 22-4
The reason that Danielle Williams and Amador Valley didn’t reach the NCS D1 finals opposite Foothill is that the Dons were upset in the semifinals by the Colts. Under head coach Teri Johnson, our 2010 State Coach of the Year and honored recently as the 2017 National Federation California Coach of the Year, Logan only lost three seniors off of that team. Camille Rodriguez is back to pitch with an 18-3 record and 1.15 ERA. Cassandra Wenn is the top returning hitter with a .507 average as a junior. Aliyah Yates had 25 RBI and hit .403.
23. Mission Viejo 21-6
As great as the Diablos have been over the last 10 years, it would just seem wrong not to keep them in the preseason state rankings despite some heavy graduation losses and a coaching change. New head coach Clint Watson will have to develop front-line pitching, but has a few standouts still on the roster. Catcher Tera McGowan is one of the best in the nation and outfielder Peyton Cody has a scholarship to St. John’s.
24. St. Francis (Mountain View) 23-8
The Lancers are going to push No. 22 Mitty for the West Catholic Athletic League title and should be up there with the Monarchs and Watsonville for the overall CCS No. 1 ranking. Pitcher Jordan Schuring was the CCS Sophomore of the Year by Prep2Prep with a 1.71 ERA. She also hit .359 with 22 RBI. Head coach Mike Oakland also has junior Hanna Damore (.373, 7 HR, 42 RBI) and sophomore Hailey Prahm (.356, six HR, 30 RBI).
25. Huntington Beach 18-10
With a nod to the depth of top teams in Orange County and to a roster that has three major college recruits, we’ll go with the Oilers for the final spot in this year’s preseason top 25. Sophomore Grace Uribe will need to be a force on the mound, but if she does the rest of the lineup looks formidable. The three recruits are shortstop Allee Bunker (Oregon), outfielder Jadelyn Allchin (Washington) and outfielder Jaelyn Operasa (Tennessee). Four-year starter Kelli Kufta also is returning to the infield.
Teams On The Bubble
Agoura (Agoura Hills) 22-9
Buchanan (Clovis) 22-9
Buena (Ventura) 27-0-1
Carlmont (Belmont) 26-
Chino Hills 24-8
Freedom (Oakley) 16-7
Grand Terrace 24-3
Granite Hills (El Cajon) 24-9-1
Notre Dame (Salinas) 25-6
Pioneer (Woodland) 18-6-1
San Benito (Hollister) 23-5
St. Mary’s (Stockton) 25-6
Vanden (Fairfield) 21-6