There were some games over the weekend in the CIF Southern Section and next year we expect the season to begin much earlier due to the addition of CIF regional playoff games at the end. Still, here’s our first look at the top teams in California for the 2020 season, which starts off with good ‘ol Norco at No. 1. The 2019 State Team of the Year doesn’t have Ms. Softball State Player of the Year Kinzie Hansen any more, but still has one of 2020’s leading candidates, Sarah Willis, plus more key regulars returning. Some sections of the state seem more wide open than usual, but Foothill of Pleasanton still has the other 2020 leading Ms. Softball candidate, Nicole May, and will be looking for a second straight perfect season.
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(Listed with win-loss records from 2019 season)
(Does not include any results from 2020 season unless noted in text)
1. Norco 32-1
It only makes sense to start the Cougars at No. 1 once again for California. Head coach Rick Robinson does have some significant graduation losses to fill in the lineup. It isn’t just that four-year standout catcher and Ms. Softball State POY Kinzie Hansen is now at Oklahoma, but others such as power-hitting Paige Smith and more also are gone. The good news is that Washington-bound Sarah Willis, the team’s shutdown pitcher last year and one of its top hitters, will be back. Willis, called “the best softball athlete in the country” by ExtraInningSoftball’s Carlos Arias, went 22-1 with a 0.82 ERA in the circle while at the plate she batted .350 with four homers and 20 RBI . Norco also has Oregon-bound Stevie Hansen who can pitch. She had a 0.13 ERA from last season and a 9-0 record. Other promising returning players are senior INF Kyleigh Sand (.417, 22 RBI) and sophomore OF Abby Dayton (.370).
2. Great Oak (Temecula) 26-4-1
Last year’s CIF Southern Section Division 1 champions are loaded with their returning lineup. State Freshman Player of the Year Ramsey Suarez, a power hitting third baseman committed to UCLA, and Oklahoma-bound shortstop Quincee Lilio, who has been ranked among the top Class of 2021 recruits in the nation, are just two of the leading returnees. Head coach David Mercado also welcomes back senior C Sarah Kinch (Minnesota) and senior P Landyn Bruce (Ole Miss). Senior 1B Abby Trimble, senior OF Holly Fisher, sophomore INF Brandy Kinch and sophomore OF Bella Mejia are other top returning starters. Great Oak also is the No. 2 seed for this year’s Michelle Carew Classic behind Norco.
3. Chino Hills 27-5
Although the Huskies no longer have Brooke Johnson hitting homers in the middle of their lineup, everyone else is back plus they will have three-year pitching standout Kendall Mangel still delivering in the circle. It’s more than enough for us to put head coach Mike Southworth’s squad in the top three to start the season. Mangel went 24-5 in the circle as a sophomore with a 1.65 ERA after she was 27-3 with a 1.25 ERA as a freshman. Junior INF Kayla Chavez, sophomore INF Kiki Estrada, junior OF Payton Kelly and junior OF Mykenzie Hanna should all be leading hitters. Chavez hammered 13 homers with 42 RBI to go with a .421 average last season. Estrada hit .470 with nine homers and 47 RBI while Kelly (.430, 9 HR, 32 RBI) and Hanna (.404, 7 HR, 27 RBI) all showed what they could do with bat in hand. Including Johnson there were only three seniors on last year’s squad in all.
4. Foothill (Pleasanton) 28-0
It might seem odd to put the Falcons at No. 4 in the preseason when they finished No. 2 last year and still have one of the best players in the nation. We simply prefer to leave some room for them to move up in the rankings since their schedule also will again be much weaker than the top teams from the CIFSS. If they go unbeaten again, they’ll definitely finish No. 2 or No. 1 in the state. Pitcher-hitter Nicole May (Oklahoma) was the State Junior of the Year after she posted a 24-0 record with a 0.32 ERA. She also hit five homers with 27 RBI. Her catcher, Courtney Beaudin, also one of the best in the state at her position, is back as well. She signed in November with UCLA. Head coach Matt Sweeney (who was our State Coach of the Year last season) also will be looking for continued contributions from junior OF Emma Chandler and senior INF Hailey Hayes.
5. Huntington Beach 18-9
Texas A&M signed pitcher Grace Uribe has been one of the most effective at her position in Southern California for the last two seasons and leads a group of returnees for the Oilers who were ranked No. 1 to start 2020 last week by the Orange County Register. Playing in one of the toughest leagues in the nation with opponents like Los Alamitos (ranked right behind Huntington Beach in these state rankings), Marina of Huntington Beach and more can cause more losses than other top teams will take, plus head coach Jeff Forsberg usually takes his girls to the toughest tournaments. Uribe’s batterymate, C Reanna Rudd, will miss the season with an injury, but there still should be more than enough offense and defense elsewhere to make the loss easier to handle. OF Shelbi Ortiz is the team’s other captain along with Uribe.
6. Los Alamitos 19-9
Our friend Lance Eddy of the Michelle Carew Classic has sent in seedings for this year’s tourney and they show Norco, Great Oak and then Los Al in the top three. That’s different than the OC Varsity preseason top 10, but we’ll go with the seedings and are beginning with the Griffins close to their usual spot in the top five. While pitcher Sarah Ladd will be missed, head coach Rob Weil still has everyone else back except one other player. The list of veterans also includes a pitcher, Grand Canyon State-bound Tyler Denhart, plus there’s big-time junior catcher Sophia Nugent (Oklahoma), all-state underclass INF Ali Belarde (Utah), junior INF Emma Sellars (South Carolina) and more.
7. Lutheran (Orange) 23-7-1
There are going to be some big sticks missing in the middle of the lineup for the Lancers, but the defending Trinity League champions in our book have to be beaten on the field in their case to be ranked lower than a league rival like Mater Dei. OLu also still has its share of prime-time performers more than capable of keeping the group among the state’s best. Veteran pitcher Taryn Lennon (BYU) should get some help from transfer pitcher Lexi Lacy, a junior. The Lancers also can count on high productivity from players like OF Brenna Begin (Arizona State), INF Tayler Holcroft (Nevada) and INF Victoria Fragoso (Kentucky).
8. Stockdale (Bakersfield) 27-5
Head coach Amanda Hockett’s defending CIF Central Section Division I champions are the clear favorites in that section with only three graduating players off last year’s roster. There are others in the section that should be improved, but with Sydney Hornbuckle pitching once again (plus she hit .529 as a junior with 28 RBI) and her twin sister Katelyn again behind the plate (.430, 20 RBI) the Mustangs look ready to roll. Both girls have signed with Colorado State. INF Kim Mirales (.338, 17 RBI) is another of the squad’s top players.
9. Mater Dei Catholic (San Diego) 31-4
UCLA is now the home of last season’s dynamic duo of pitcher/hitter Lexi Sosa and catcher/hitter Alyssa Garcia. Others from the lineup also graduated, but we’re continuing to go with the Crusaders at the top of San Diego. They were just so far in front of any other team last spring and there are some outstanding returnees. Leadoff hitter Kiyra Moody, a junior, was a spark last season and ended at .352 with 22 RBI. INF Destinee Noury also batted .361 with 20 RBI, P/INF Alena Ramirez hit .386 and is going to George Washington, and junior Enissa Weekly could step up as a pitcher.
10. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 15-11-1
First year head coach Sean Brashear, who has extensive experience coaching at the club level in Southern California, figures to have a team capable of dethroning Orange Lutheran in the Trinity League and being among the best in SoCal. The OC Varsity preseason top 10 had the Monarchs second behind only Huntington Beach. While some schools in our preseason top 10 have some pitching questions, Mater Dei does not. Three girls who can all get outs in the circle are Johlie Gustave (Syracuse), Riley Orcutt (Georgia) and Morgan McConnell (North Dakota). Brashear also has some talent in his offensive/defensive lineups, led by INF Marlene Friedman (Arkansas).
11. St. Francis (Mountain View) 25-6-1
One year after the Lancers made it to the CIF Central Coast Section D1 championship where they lost to league rival Archbishop Mitty (a team they beat twice earlier in the season), they should have a lot of motivation to finish the job this season. Most of the squad is back and there is returning strength offensively and in the circle. As a sophomore, Lauren Baker stepped into a difficult situation as a pitcher (replacing a senior) and finished 18-4 with a 2.41 ERA. The team’s two other leading returnees are sophomore INF Jessica Oakland (.422, 35 RBI) and senior INF Hailey Prahm (.424, 8 HRs, 30 RBI). Oakland is the daughter of Lancers’ head coach Mike Oakland.
12. Amador Valley (Pleasanton) 18-9
It’s not like we think the Dons are going to be able to play up there with their arch-rivals from Foothill, but they should be a lot stronger than last season and should return to being consistently ranked in the NorCal top 10 or higher. Just about everyone is back and the top four players from last season’s all-East Bay Athletic League honors list are all in that group. Sophomore P Mia Hildebrand is one of them. Junior OF Val Torres-Colon (Pacific), junior INF Ally Kim and sophomore C Sophihe Youngberg are the other three.
13. Santiago (Corona) 19-6-1
We were actually primed to put the Sharks in the No. 5 or No. 6 position to start the season, but they played on Saturday in the Stu Penter Classic and lost 10-3 to Yucaipa (13-12 last season). We decided not to drop them all the way out for one result and have kept them in the mix as a team to watch. There were only two seniors on the roster last season from a squad that did hand league rival Norco its only loss. Junior P Savannah Hooks is the leader of the group as she was named all-state underclass.
14. Notre Dame (Salinas) 23-4
The Spirits seem loaded and primed to have a great season with just one senior gone from a 2019 squad that made it to the CCS D1 semifinals. Several of the players, led by sophomore OF Victoria Cervantes and junior C Angelita Fuentes, are among the top-ranked in their class nationally by FloSoftball and others. Cervantes hit eight homers with 24 RBI and a .500 average last season. Fuentes batted .448 with nine omers and 40 RBI. Also back is junior INF Corrine Sargenti (.410, 28 RBI) and senior OF Logan Riggenbach (.398, 24 RBI). Pitcher Sam Rocha returns as well after going 18-3 with a 1.68 ERA and 171 strikeouts.
15. Bullard (Fresno) 23-6
San Diego State-bound Jazmine Castaneda is the leading returnee from a 2019 club that had a lot of underclass standouts and reached the CIF Central Section D1 final before losing a one-run game to Stockdale of Bakersfield. Castaneda had a 1.00 ERA and hit .396 with 23 RBI for the Knights. INF Emmerson Lee, named as the section’s Defensive Player of the Year by the PAGMETER website and headed to Central Florida, also returns. Junior INF Logan Amaral (.370, 17 RBI) was another clutch player for Bullard last season.
16. Bonita Vista (Chula Vista) 16-11
If the Barons had done a little better last season, they’d be starting in front of city rival Mater Dei Catholic as our preseason No. 1 for the San Diego Section. Some might say they should be considered for that regardless. They lost just two senior regulars and have one of the section’s best players in junior Alexis Guevara. She went 15-5 in the circle last season with a 1.89 ERA and batted .423 with four homers and 28 RBI. Junior Micaela Macario is another to watch. She scored 32 runs and hit .404.
17. Pacifica (Garden Grove) 17-4
It’s almost one year removed from the awful situation of the Mariners suffering from the sudden death of head coach Mark Campbell. They should have one of the top lineups in Southern California and could be way up there in the rankings if their pitching comes through. One of the top catchers in the state, Alyssa Brito, going to Oregon, is the leading returnee. There’s also honors candidates such as OF Lilyanna Martinez (Long Beach State), INF/C Carlli Kloss (Notre Dame), junior INF Jacquelyn Bickar and P/OF Sarah Reisler.
18. Whitney (Rocklin) 26-6
It’s a bit wide open for the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section so we will stick with the defending D1 champions despite losing a good chunk of the offense. The biggest graduations were the MacFarlane twins, Makenzie and Mazie, both now at Utah State. The returning strength is in the circle with pitcher Nia Trinidad (15-3, 2.39), who also batted .304 with 22 RBI. INF Montanah Hermosillo also is back after hitting seven homers and driving in 27 runs as a junior.
19. Santa Margarita (Rancho SM) 25-4
The Eagles will have two of the best players in the Trinity League but will need their pitchers to step up after taking graduation hits in that department to hang with Orange Lutheran and Mater Dei. Washington-bound junior INF Angie Yellen and junior C Abbey Charpentier are those two players. The pitchers to watch are juniors Brooke Owens and Jayci Kruse.
20. Clovis 21-7
With almost everyone back from last year and longtime head coach Mike Noel still calling the shots, the Cougars have to be viewed as one of the favorites in the CIF Central Section. Clovis clicks another of our preseason boxes by having a top pitcher returning, in its case senior Allie Puente. Her sister, Kassie, is another one of those returnees, along with honors candidates such as sophomore OF Taylor Johnson and junior OF Maddy Arnold.
21. Del Oro (Loomis) 21-10-2
It’s a bit of a gamble to put the Golden Eagles this high since they’ve never started this high before. They do have a lot of the x-factors we like for preseason softball rankings, such as headline returnees in the lineup and pitching. Four-year starter Katelyn Oldwin will provide most of the pitching and she struck out 265 batters last season. Junior INF Maddie Moore and sophomore P/INF Jenna Birch also are part of an experienced group that only lost two seniors from 2019. Moore, who has committed to Clemson, batted .429 last season with six homers. Birch, committed to Oregon State, should be one of the top sophomores in the region.
22. California (Whittier) 21-4
The Condors were listed as one of the top 10 teams to watch in the CIF Southern Section’s preseason report for its top division and then began the season last Saturday with a pair of wins at the Savanna Showcase. Most of the team from last season is back, including pitcher Richere Leduc (9-1, 2.08) along with INF Casey Dufrene (.507, 26 RBI) plus junior C/OF Jenavee Amador (.419).
23. Oaks Christian (Westlake Village) 22-5-1
Don’t feel too sorry for the Lions now that Maya Brady is off to a great start at UCLA and her Oaks Christian career is done. Longtime head coach Pete Ackermann has another standout stepping up further into the spotlight in sophomore Micaela Kastor. She hit .409 last season with seven homers and also can pitch (6-3, 1.63). Another to watch is INF Madison Rainone, who batted .421. We also really like next-door neighbor Westlake this season, but couldn’t get past its early playoff exit last season to Sultana of Hesperia. We decided to put both of those teams on the bubble to start and then see what happens.
24. Sheldon (Sacramento) 19-7-1
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Huskies return to their usual No. 1 slot in the Sac-Joaquin Section. We just didn’t see evidence yet of head coach Mary Jo Truesdale having the type of pitching needed for such a ranking. The rest of the pieces look great. North Carolina-bound Kiannah Pierce is a .498 career hitter. There’s also senior four-year starter Sam Oliver (Nevada), INF Tessa Poirer (Humboldt State) and sophomore Jazlyn Fines (.371). Plus, Sheldon has picked up a couple of key transfers, led by sophomore OF Dakota Kennedy, one of the top frosh in Northern California from last season at Folsom.
25. Crescenta Valley (La Crescenta) 27-5-1
Last year’s CIFSS D3 champions return a solid nucleus of top players but will be challenged moving all the way up to the section’s top division. We still felt compelled to write up the Falcons to be toward the tail end of the top 25 due to their roster. Leading returnees include junior P Dee Dee Hernandez, sophomore C Izzy Jamgotchian and junior INF Morgan Eng.
Teams On The Bubble
Aragon (San Mateo) 22-6
Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 18-7
Canyon (Anaheim) 19-9-1
Clovis North (Fresno) 21-6-1
El Camino Real (Woodland Hills) 21-9
Elk Grove 21-10
Gahr (Cerritos) 22-6
Godinez (Santa Ana) 26-4
Heritage (Brentwood) 25-3
Marina (Huntington Beach) 16-9
Marin Catholic (Kentfield) 25-1
Mission Hills (San Marcos) 22-11-1
San Marin (Novato) 18-6
Sultana (Hesperia) 17-8
Westlake (Westlake Village) 20-9