Welcome to the first week of Big Ten Power Rankings at Hail Varsity. I’m your new softball reporter, Maren Angus-Coombs.
What makes me qualified to rank these teams every week you may ask? Here’s a quick explanation.
I have spent the past eight years covering NCAA Softball for various outlets and currently coach at Omaha Mercy High School.
What can you expect with Hail Varsity’s softball coverage in 2023? Every week we will have a weekend recap and power rankings. This week’s rankings are a little lengthy but that’s because we are three weeks into the season and felt like you, the reader, should be caught up with every team in the Big Ten.
These power rankings will also be discussed in depth on our new podcast, Behind the Plate with Maren and Nate, debuting next week.
Maryland started the season going 3-1 in Puerto Vallarta with wins over No. 22 Oregon and No. 3 Oklahoma State. The Terps swept the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Virginia and North Carolina before dropping three games in Waco to No. 10 Baylor and Minnesota.
On deck: Maryland travels to Greenville, North Carolina, for the East Carolina Tournament and will play Saint Joseph’s, East Carolina and Monmouth.
Players to watch: Junior Jaeda McFarland leads the team in hitting with a .444 batting average and sophomore Amelia Lech has a team-high four homers.
2. No. 22 Northwestern
Wins: Texas 10-9, Kentucky 9-3
Northwestern is the only team ranked in the conference and has had the toughest preseason schedule in the conference with games against No. 11 Texas, No. 23 Missouri, No. 6 Tennessee, No. 4 Clemson, No. 20 Oregon and No. 2 UCLA and No. 16 Kentucky.
The Wildcats beat Texas 10-9 and Kentucky 9-3.
On deck: NU travels to Louisville for the Cardinal Classic and will play Toledo, Louisville and Northern Kentucky.
Players to watch: Grad student Jordyn Rudd is one of the best catchers in the country and leads Northwestern in almost every offensive category. Senior pitcher Danielle Williams hasn’t been dominant as in years past. Last year’s First-Team All-American has a 5.07 ERA in 19.1 innings of work, she should get a couple of wins this weekend.
Nebraska started the season 4-1 and outscored opponents 24-1 before reality hit in Clearwater. The Huskers went 1-4 with a one-run win over No. 25 Texas A&M and losses to No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 7 Arkansas and No. 13 Virginia Tech.
The Huskers had more success in New Mexico going 4-1 with their only loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State.
On deck: The Hillenbrand Invitational awaits the Huskers in Tucson with games against Weber State, Texas A&M Commerce and No. 18 Arizona.
Players to watch: Junior Billie Andrews sets the pace offensively at the top of the lineup. She has a team-high 17 hits, six homers and 13 RBIs. Senior Courtney Wallace and junior Sarah Harness have each been named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week once this season.
Minnesota started the season 4-1 with a loss to Colgate and then dropped three of four in Chapel Hill at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The lone victory was against Virginia with a score of 2-1 in eight innings.
The Gophers beat a ranked Maryland team twice for a couple of early statement wins but the Gophers will face steeper competition this weekend.
On deck: Minnesota travels to the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, California. The Gophers will face No. 20 Oregon, No. 15 LSU, RV Cal State Fullerton, Seattle, Loyola Marymount and San Diego State.
Players to watch: Sophomore Taylor Krapf was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday after hitting five home runs over the weekend. She hit .692 (9-for-13) with seven runs and eight RBIs. Freshman Jess Oakland was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week back on Feb. 13 and leads the conference with slugging (1.058), nine home runs and 20 RBIs.
In head coach Bonnie Tholl’s first year, Michigan’s schedule hasn’t been a cakewalk. The Wolverines have played six ranked opponents. They opened the season 4-1 before the TaxAct Clearwater Elite Invitational where they went 2-3 with wins against a then-ranked Louisiana and Mississippi State.
This past weekend Michigan 1-4 at the Stanford Invitational and the only win was against Boise State, 2-1. The Wolverines dropped both games to No. 8 Stanford 5-0 and 3-1.
On deck: Michigan beat UCF and RV Cal State Fullerton on Thursday night and still has to face No. 15 LSU, Seattle and No. 2 UCLA at the Judi Garman Classic.
Players to watch: Sophomore Ellie Sieler leads the team with a .351 batting average and Junior Keke Tholl has four of the teams five home runs. Junior Jessica LeBeau and sophomore Lauren Derkowski are handling the pitching load equally and have ERA’s of 2.85 and 2.89. 5.
The Iowa Hawkeyes stole the show for a night at Mary Nutter when freshman Jalen Adams held then-No. 1, now No. 2, UCLA to two runs in a 2-1 loss. The Hawkeyes finished the weekend 2-3 with wins against Bethune-Cookman and Cal State Northridge.
Iowa faced a then-ranked No. 23 Mississippi State to open the season with a 2-0 win and split the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against NC State and Syracuse.
On deck: Iowa will play in Conway, Arkansas, at the Adam Brown Memorial Shamrock Classic against South Dakota, Alcorn State, Central Arkansas and Omaha.
Players to watch: Senior Nia Carter has a team-high .478 batting average and 1.129 OPS with 14 runs scored, 22 hits and a .564 on-base percentage. Junior Denali Loecker is the power with four homers and 17 RBIs. Adams has a 0.79 ERA in 26.2 innings and six appearances.
7. Ohio State
Ohio State has been tested early and often. The Buckeyes have played No. 16 Georgia, No. 4 Clemson, Central Florida, Notre Dame and Oregon State.
They are coming off a 3-1 weekend at Mary Nutter with wins against Cal State Northridge, Oregon State and San Diego State. The loss was a 9-1 run-rule in five innings against Utah.
On deck: Ohio State heads to Conway, S.C. and will play Canisius, Coastal Carolina and Houston Christian before a few mid-week games at Charleston Southern and College of Charleston.
Players to watch: Melina Wilkison is batting .359 with nine home runs and 23 RBIs. Allison Smith has proven herself as the ace in the circle with a 3-3 record and a 3.50 ERA in 36 innings.
The record says one thing at a glance but a deeper dive says Rutgers have not been challenged. The toughest competition to date is South Alabama and the Scarlet Knights lost both contests.
Rutgers is coming off a 4-1 weekend at the Low Country Classic. The loss was a 2-1, extra-inning contest against Syracuse.
On deck: Rutgers heads to the Jeannine McHaney Memorial Classic in Lubbock, Texas. In the other dugout will be North Dakota, Texas Tech and Seton Hall.
Players to watch: Junior Kyleigh Sand is leading the conference with a .538 average, 20 runs scored, 28 hits and 18 stolen bases. Freshman Raimy Gamsby has a 0.45 ERA in 31 innings and a 4-1 record.
Illinois came into he 2023 with high expectation and those were met with a 9-2 loss to No. 6 Tennessee, 7-0 to No. 11 Texas and 10-0 to No. 21 Auburn.
The Illini went 3-1 against Louisville and Georgia Tech at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and 4-1 at the Houston Tournament.
On deck: Illinois travels to Columbia, South Carolina, for the Gamecock Invitational. There are four games on the schedule against North Carolina A&T, UNC Wilmington, South Carolina and Columbia.
Players to watch: Fifth-year Avrey Steiner sets the tone for the offense with a .370 average. The next highest amongst 14-game starters is .260. Her classmate Sydney Sickels owns the circle with a 1.57 ERA and 6-0 record in 44.2 innings.
10. Penn State
Penn State’s season opened up with a cancelled tournament which wasn’t ideal but since then they rode a seven-game winning streak into a matchup with Georgia Tech. That 7-6 loss started a three-game losing streak with two losses to Boston University.
The 7-0 start matched the program’s best record since 1974. Five of those were consecutive shutouts which is a school record.
On deck: The Nittany Lions will play George Washington, Hampton, Delaware and Norfolk State at the Pirate-Spartan Classic in Norfolk, Va.
Players to watch: Lexie Black carries a .433 average into the weekend with three home runs and 12 RBIs. She also leads the team in hits (13) and doubles (5). Fifth-year pitcher Bailey Parshall is 4-3 with a 1.53 ERA. Opponents are hitting .142 against her in 32 innings.
Wisconsin started the season losing four straight in Puerto Vallarta. The Badgers split the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with Louisville and Georgia Tech and is currently riding a four-game winning streak.
The Badgers have outscored their opponents 18-8 during the current streak and are looking to continue their winning ways this weekend.
On deck: A trip to Bloomington, Ind., is on deck for the Badgers with games against Purdue Fort Wayne, IUPUI and Indiana.
Players to watch: Super senior Kayla Konwent is doing Kayla Konwent things. She is batting .343, slugging .629 and has a .439 on-base percentage. She leads the team in every offensive category except doubles and triples. Freshman Paytn Monticelli and fifth-year Maddie Schwartz have split time evenly in the circle. Monticelli is 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA and Schwartz is 2-5 with a 2.70.
Purdue had two games canceled to open the season the JoAnne Graf Classic at Florida State. The Boilermakers went 2-1 with both wins over Longwood and the loss to No. 5 Florida State. Ironically, Longwood beat FSU that weekend.
Purdue went 3-1 against Syracuse and NC State at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and then finished 3-2 at the Knights Classic in Orlando.
On deck: Chapel Hill is hosting Purdue this weekend for the Carolina Classic. The Boilermakers will play North Carolina and James Madison twice each.
Players to watch: As long as sophomore Tyrina Jones is producing at the plate, the Boilermakers are in good shape. She is leading the offense in batting average, runs hits, home runs, RBIs and slugging. Sophomore transfer Madi Elish has pitched the most innings (31) and is 3-0 with a 3.16 ERA.
Indiana got a few wins at the NFCA Leadoff Classic before beings slaughtered in Clearwater. The Hoosiers were outscored by ranked opponents Auburn, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Arizona 43-4.
Indiana got back in the win column last weekend against Delaware and UNC Greensboro.
On deck: Indiana hosts the Hoosier Classic and will play Green Bay, Wisconsin, Purdue Fort Wayne and IUPUI.
Players to watch: Sophomore Taylor Minnick has started 10 of 14 games and leads the offense in several categories including RBIs (13). The pitching has been by committee. Brianna Copeland, Macy Montgomery and Heather Johnson each have more than 20 innings of work. Copeland has a team-best 3.40 ERA.
14. Michigan State
Rounding out the power rankings is Michigan State. The Spartans opened the season with a 3-2 weekend at the Texas A&M Classic. MSU’s first-year head coach Sharonda McDonald-Kelley spent her collegiate playing career as an Aggie so it was fitting she got her first win as a Power Five had coach at her alma mater.
The Spartans are currently on a four-game losing streak heading into the weekend.
On deck: The Arizona State Sun Devils host the ASU Classic and MSU will play No. 12 Washington, Grand Canyon, Houston, Arizona State and Boise State.
Players to watch: Freshman Mandy Esman has a team-high 10 RBIs and senior Jessica Mabrey leads the team with a .364 average, 12 hits, .545 slugging and .533 OBP. Junior Ashley Miller has pitched the bulk of the innings, 52, and has a 2.69 ERA with a 5-5 record.
Maren is freelancing at HV this year and has a free membership so she has full access to her articles, but not admin access to Memberpress – 3/13/2023, EMV