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Kenzie Fowler examines 1 major storyline facing each Pac-12 softball team in 2022

Feb 4, 2022
Photo of Caitlin Lowe via Arizona Athletics

The 2022 Pac-12 softball season is less than a week away, and with seven of the league's nine teams receiving recognition in the national preseason polls, it promises to be another action-packed year in the Conference of Champions.

To preview what might be to come, Pac-12.com caught up with Pac-12 Networks analyst and former Arizona Wildcats All-American pitcher Kenzie Fowler to preview one major storyline facing each Pac-12 team.

Arizona — Caitlin Lowe replacing the legendary Mike Candrea

Kenzie Fowler: I think the headline should be about Coach Lowe. It's just so monumental to have a new face at the helm of this program. The youth of the team matches the youth of the coaching staff, as the two best returning bats for the Wildcats (Janelle Meoño and Sharlize Palacios) are redshirt sophomores. It will be a fresh start for everyone, a reset with Coach Candrea retiring and that talented senior class graduating. With the program setting a new record in season tickets, it’s safe to say the fans are eager to see Coach Lowe carry on the tradition in the new era of Arizona Softball.

Arizona State — Returning players are ready to fill bigger roles 

KF: Arizona State loses a lot of home runs [with the loss of the Hackbarth twins]. But if there's anything we know about the Sun Devils it’s that they pride themselves in their offense and they have some really good players that are going to need to step up. The Sun Devils will rely on the bats of Jazmine Hill, Makenna Harper and Alynah Torres to help replace the production that graduated. 

From a year ago when they had one of the youngest pitching staffs in the Pac-12, they have now doubled the depth in the circle. The addition of talented freshman Mac Morgan and Arizona transfer Marissa Schuld will be huge, because the pitching depth was definitely an obstacle for them in the postseason. I can’t wait to see what a more loaded staff looks like for Coach Ford. 

California – A young team turns to its battery

KF: Cal might be the youngest team in the nation, with no seniors on their roster. We know Coach Spencer is continuing to put the pieces together, and it’s going to be a season where any type of experience is vital. Luckily they have a good battery to lead them. It all starts with two-sport athlete Makena Smith, one of the best players in the conference and their leader behind the dish. Haylei Archer is a promising young arm that saw a lot of action last year as a freshman, and brings the energy every time she steps in the circle. With Cal great Kristina Thorson returning as their pitching coach, I’m excited to see what Archer looks like with another year under her belt. 

Oregon — Is Oregon back?

KF: Oregon should have a lot to prove and the pieces are there. It all starts in the circle, and they are the deepest pitching staff in the Pac-12.  Senior left hander Brooke Yanez is surrounded by quality, experienced, young arms that are going to be fresh and ready to go. There’s still a lot to see with what their lineup looks like, especially having to replace Haley Cruse in the leadoff spot, but they are so young and athletic that there are multiple options to get the job done. 

Oregon State — Finding other contributors besides Mariah Mazon and Frankie Hammoude

KF: Youth continues to be a theme as this may be one of the youngest teams that Coach Berg has ever had. Yet, Oregon State has one of the most veteran players in Mariah Mazon. Pac-12 teams know that if you want to beat the Beavers you have to go through Mazon in the circle and at the plate. There is more depth coming to Corvallis this season with the addition of Tarni Stepto fresh off her Olympic experience with Team Australia. An experienced arm will be huge to help take the load off Mazon and free her up to be the best version of herself. Obviously one thing that stood out to me last year was the lack of offense from the Beavers. They know they need to produce more this season, and I look to Frankie Hammoude to lead the way there. 

Stanford — How much more will Alana Vawter and the Cardinal improve?

KF: Stanford the last couple of seasons hasn’t made huge jumps but they’ve gotten quietly better every year since Coach Allister has taken over. They are a fast, scrappy team that makes the Pac-12 Conference better. You have to bring your A-game every time you play them, as they plan to ruin your weekend. I envision another postseason caliber team with Alana Vawter leading the way in the circle. Last year the nation started to take notice of her talent, and I can’t wait to see more from her and the squad that surrounds her. 

UCLA — It’s the Bruins’ conference to lose

KF: Any other program, you lose two Olympians—Bubba Nichols and Rachel Garcia—and you're thinking it's a rebuild. Not in Westwood. Their senior class has been so steady throughout their time as Bruins. Bri Perez, Aaliyah Jordan and Kinsley Washington all have national championship experience, and can absolutely lead the way to OKC again. I also think Megan Faraimo is really going to push Gabbie Plain for pitcher of the year. It will be a fun battle for softball fans, watching them compete every weekend. 

Utah — It’s a prove-it year

KF: There’s a new coaching staff surrounding Coach Hogue this season. DJ Gasso, Paige Parker and Allexis “Chip” Bennett are all names softball fans know. What could that look like for a young Utah team? It’s intriguing. There are plenty of new faces to build a lineup around the fastest player in the conference in Haley Denning, who as a slap hitter is as tough as they come. Although there's going to be a lot of competition for playing time and a new coaching staff surrounding the experience of Coach Hogue, it should be a re-energized year in Salt Lake City. 

Washington — Can the Huskies get Gabbie Plain some more help?

KF: For a team that graduated All-Americans Morganne Flores and Sis Bates, I think the Huskies will look very similar to last year. It’s no secret that Gabbie Plain is one of the nation’s top pitchers, but she needed some backup last season. To get where Washington wants to go, which is a national championship, they need some competitive innings from the rest of the staff to compliment Plain’s ability to dominate. Look for more of a role from utility pitcher Kelley Lynch, who is looking to start this season healthy. Coming off what might have been the toughest draw in the NCAA tournament a year ago, I’m sure Coach Tarr and her squad are looking for some redemption.

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For more Pac-12 softball coverage, check out other installations of our season preview series: