The road to the Women's College World Series will officially get underway on Thursday night in Seattle, Washington, and begin for everyone else on Friday.
Like with any tournament, there is a long trek ahead of each team. But with a plethora of dominant teams, like No. 1 Oregon, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 UCLA, this year's softball championships should produce plenty of intrigue.
The Ducks come in with just seven losses on the season while the Bruins hold a staggering 48-6 record as the third seed. But not everyone was happy with the draw heading into the regionals, with a few teams being handed unfavorable seeds.
NCAA Softball Regional Opening Schedule
Eugene Regional — May 16-18 at Eugene, Ore.
No. 1 seed Oregon (49-7-1) vs. Utah Valley (18-40)
Wisconsin (34-18) vs. Albany (NY) (33-11)
Minneapolis Regional — May 16-18 at Minneapolis
Auburn (39-17-1) vs. North Dakota State (35-16)
No. 16 seed Minnesota (41-9) vs. Green Bay (27-12)
Tempe Regional — May 16-18 at Tempe, Ariz.
No. 9 seed Arizona State (44-10-1) vs. Dartmouth (31-17)
Michigan (42-12) vs. San Diego St. (39-17)
Tallahassee Regional — May 16-18 at Tallahassee, Fla.
South Carolina (35-20) vs. South Florida (41-15)
No. 8 seed Florida State (50-6) vs. Fordham (36-18)
Gainesville Regional — May 16-18 at Gainesville, Fla.
No. 5 seed Florida (45-11) vs. Florida A&M (24-27)
Stetson (38-12) vs. UCF (41-16)
Seattle Regional — May 15-17 at Seattle, Wash.
Northwestern (33-16) vs. BYU (33-21)
Iona (24-22) vs. No. 12 seed Washington (33-13)
Waco Regional — May 16-18 at Waco, Texas
No. 13 seed Baylor (42-13) vs. Northwestern State (30-20)
Houston (32-21) vs. Tulsa (50-7)
Athens Regional — May 16-18 at Athens, Ga.
North Carolina State (34-16) vs. UAB (31-25)
Chattanooga (34-19) vs. No. 4 seed Georgia (45-12)
Los Angeles Regional — May 16-18 at Los Angeles
No. 3 seed UCLA (48-6) vs. Southern Utah (23-29)
Long Beach State (38-17) vs. Notre Dame (39-11)
Lexington Regional — May 16-18 at Lexington, Ky.
James Madison (44-13) vs. DePaul (41-9)
No. 14 seed Kentucky (44-15) vs. Ohio (32-24)
Tucson Regional — May 16-18 at Tucson
No. 11 seed Arizona (41-13) vs. Boston University (35-19)
Louisville (36-20) vs. LSU (35-22)
Lafayette Regional — May 16-18 at Lafayette, La.
Texas (33-21) vs. Mississippi State (38-19)
Texas Southern (31-18) vs. No. 6 seed La.-Lafayette (44-8-1)
Norman Regional — May 16-18 at Norman, Okla.
No. 7 seed Oklahoma (45-10) vs. Bryant (32-20)
Hofstra (33-13) vs. Texas A&M (35-20)
Knoxville Regional — May 16-18 at Knoxville, Tenn.
Lipscomb (39-13) vs. Virginia Tech (35-21)
Charleston Southern (27-31-1) vs. No. 10 seed Tennessee (42-10)
Columbia Regional — May 16-18 at Columbia, Mo.
No. 15 seed Missouri (41-16) vs. Bradley (27-30)
Kansas (33-21) vs. Nebraska (40-15)
Tuscaloosa Regional — May 17-19 at Tuscaloosa, Ala.
South Alabama (40-12) vs. USC Upstate (45-7)
No. 2 seed Alabama (45-11) vs. SIU Edwardsville (30-21)
Breakdown of NCAA Softball Championships
No discussion in softball should ever start without last year's champion, Oklahoma.
After finishing as the runner-up in 2012, coach Patty Gasso led the Sooners on an unbelievable run that concluded with a 4-0 win over Tennessee in the final game. This season, Gasso has once again been brilliant and led the team to a No. 7 seed at 45-10 on the season.
That record earned the coach a pretty special honor, as the Big 12 Twitter account notes:
Apart from the Sooners, Oregon has hopes of winning its first Women's College World Series. The Ducks would join a long line of Pac-12 teams to win the title, with 10 of the last 14 winners coming from the conference.
The Ducks also come in with some familiarity against their first opponent in the regional. Oregon swept Utah Valley on April 29—winning one by an 8-0 run rule—but coach Mike White doesn't believe the previous meeting means much, per Jonathan Hawthorne of the Daily Emerald:
I don’t think that matters too much. They know as much about us as we know about them and of course now it’s a lot of hard work and delving in and trying to figure game plans out. And it of course comes down to one game at a time.
Utah Valley gave us a pretty good match up but they haven’t seen much of Hawkins. Obliviously we’ll do that. We’ll throw our No. 1 out there.
Oregon's offense packs plenty of punch, with senior Courtney Ceo batting .481 and picking up 14 stolen bases during the regular season and freshman Janelle Lindvall finishing with a .368 average and 12 home runs.
But the Ducks hardly have the history of a few other teams inside their conference. UCLA has 12 WCWS titles and Arizona has eight, but it's Arizona State that was left befuddled when the seeds were announced.
The Sun Devils have won two of the last six championships but were handed a No. 9 seed this season despite a 44-10 record. Coach Craig Nicholson spoke about his team's draw, via Ben Margiott of The Arizona Republic:
I think we're probably a little bit undervalued but I also think we could have solidified ourselves in the top eight (by) winning two out of three this weekend. It is what it is.
... Bottom line is, we played ourselves to the position we're in. Whatever path we have to take to get to where our goals are, we'll take that path.
Despite being ranked No. 4 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball and USA Today/NFCA Coaches polls, the Sun Devils will have to hope No. 8 Florida State loses its regional to host a super regional.
One underdog team to watch heading into the regionals might just be unranked Louisville. The Cardinals come into the tournament on a five-game win streak, culminating in them claiming the inaugural AAC tournament.
Louisville also features one of the best players in the country in recent weeks, with Katie Keller earning a huge honor earlier this week, per the team's Twitter account:
Will a traditional power pull out another title? Can Oklahoma repeat after another huge season? Is Oregon ready to be the next powerhouse team from the Pac-12?
Those answers and more will be revealed in the coming weeks. But for now, it's time for every team to start with a fresh slate this weekend in the regionals.
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