For the first time in 15 years, Northwestern Softball has reached Oklahoma City’s Hall of Fame Stadium to compete in the Women’s College World Series. The annual event marks a showdown between the top eight teams in the country; the Wildcats left little doubt about their candidacy after an exhilarating three-game Super Regional series against Arizona State in Tempe.
The ’Cats will begin their quest for a national championship against No. 1 Oklahoma today at 1:30 p.m. CT on ESPN, but NU will also play one of Texas or UCLA, the other two teams on its side of the bracket. Before Kate Drohan’s team battles Patty Gasso’s squad, here’s a rundown of the tournament’s rules, historical context, players and matchups to monitor and more.
Women’s College World Series Format
As was the case with the Regional round of action, the WCWS is a double-elimination section of the NCAA Tournament. In simpler terms, any team that loses twice is eliminated, but each participant will play at least two games.
If Northwestern beats OU, it will square off against the Longhorns or Bruins on Saturday, June 4 at 2 p.m. CT on ABC. Conversely, if the Wildcats lose their opener, they’ll play either Texas or UCLA in the loser’s bracket on Friday, June 3 at 6 p.m., with the loser of that contest being eliminated.
The easiest way for the ‘Cats to reach the finals is to win out, meaning triumphing over Oklahoma, UCLA/Texas and beating the winner of Game 9. However, the more probable outcome is for NU to stave off elimination by prevailing against the loser of UCLA/Texas and then winning “Game 9” to move to play Oklahoma/Texas/UCLA. Below is a bracket:
In the semifinal round, the team with the best cumulative record in up to five WCWS games advances; effectively, the semifinal can last either one or two games. If the team with the better record entering the semifinal loses the first game of that round, then the semifinal will extend one game.
This occurred with both semifinals in 2021: James Madison had a 2-0 mark before facing 2-1 Oklahoma, but OU won game one to force a game two (from which it emerged victorious). Hypothetically, had JMU prevailed in game one, the Dukes would have advanced to the final because the Sooners would have lost their second game.
When the tournament is whittled down to the last two teams, the finals are a best two-of-three series, a structure identical to the Super Regionals.
A Brief History of the WCWS
The WCWS formally began in 1982, with UCLA taking home the inaugural crown. 40 years later, the Bruins hope to repeat as champions.
From 1982-87, the Women’s College World Series was held in Omaha, Neb. It then moved to Sunnyvale, Calif. for the next two seasons before debuting in Oklahoma City in 1990, its epicenter every year except for 1996 in which it was conducted in Columbus, Ga.
Before its official recognition, teams did battle in a precursor to the WCWS as early as 1969, per NCAA.com. John F. Kennedy College won the first three national titles.
Another relic to add to this year’s WCWS mantle is the anniversary of Title IX, which occurred on June 23, 1972. From 40th and 50th anniversaries to the ‘Cats’ first trip to OKC in 15 years, there is no shortage of time-related milestones to be celebrated among this year’s electric eight.
Tale of the Tape
Northwestern is seeking its inaugural national championship in program history. The Wildcats’ best finish was second in 2006.
2022 will mark the team’s sixth appearance in OKC, with Drohan having spearheaded two prior trips in 2006 and 2007. Under Sharon J. Drysdale, the ‘Cats made the WCWS from 1984-86.
On the opposite pole of the spectrum of the eight qualified for Oklahoma City is UCLA: the Bruins lead the country with 12 national titles, most recently winning it all in 2019.
Oklahoma has forged somewhat of a modern-day dynasty, too. The Sooners have five titles, but two have come in the last four tournaments (2017 and 2021). Further, four of the five have been from 2013 onward.
Among the remaining competitors, Arizona has eight titles, a figure trailing only UCLA; Florida has two, but Texas, Oklahoma State and Oregon State also seek their first stop atop the podium.
Four of this year’s eight participants were in the WCWS last season: Oklahoma, UCLA, Oklahoma State and Arizona. Those teams have made it to Oklahoma City each of the last three seasons. Among them, the Bruins have the longest active streak at seven years being within the remaining eight.
There are some fellow long-awaited returners, though. Oregon State’s last appearance in OKC was 2006, besting Northwestern’s drought. Meanwhile, Texas had gone nine years without a WCWS berth. Crazily enough, the OSU Beavers had not even been to the NCAA Tournament since 2018, while 2022 was the first time in program history that the OSU Cowgirls won the Big 12 Tournament.
During their 2022 regular season, the Wildcats encountered two of their WCWS opponents: UCLA and Oklahoma State; both showdowns happened in the SPC Elite Invite in late February. NU defeated UCLA courtesy of a walk-off home run from Maeve Nelson in extra innings, while Oklahoma State bested the purple and white 4-3.
Finally, here are Northwestern’s all-time records against the final seven teams, as well as their most recent matchups.
NU Softball vs. WCWS Opponents
|Oklahoma||2-19||March 1, 2020 (5-1 loss)|
|UCLA||5-15||Feb. 18 (6-4 win)|
|Oklahoma State||5-11||Feb. 20 (4-3 loss)|
|Florida||2-5||Feb. 21, 2020 (3-2 loss)|
|Arizona||2-19||Feb. 9, 2018 (4-1 loss)|
|Texas||2-4||Feb. 7, 2015 (5-4 loss)|
|Oregon State||15-13||Feb. 26, 2016 (5-3 loss)|
Players to Watch
Note: For an in-depth list of Northwestern players to watch specifically, read more here.
Without a doubt, the stars will be shining intensely under the OKC sun.
The conversation’s focal point is Oklahoma’s Jocelyn Alo, who became the NCAA’s all-time home run leader on March 26 with her 96th long ball. Now in her fifth season with the Sooners, Alo has never posted a year-long batting average below .379, and she has been voted an NFCA All-American every year of her career the awards have been doled out.
OU’s lineup is chock full of stars aside from Alo, though. Six other Sooners collected an OPS over 1.000 this year, including Tiare Jennings and Grace Lyons, who joined Alo in the 20-homer club.
Head coach Patty Gasso’s pitching staff is also devastating. Hope Trautwein, Jordy Bahl and Nicole May each made at least 25 appearances and had ERAs below 1.00. Though Bahl has missed nearly a month due to injury, the freshman is expected to return to action in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma’s well-roundedness has led the Sooners to a gaudy 54-2 record, its last loss coming on May 14 to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 championship.
Speaking of the Cowgirls, they boast one of the best pitchers in the country in Kelly Maxwell, a First Team All-American who amassed 279 strikeouts and surrendered just seven home runs in 169 innings. Oklahoma State has quality hitters in Miranda Elish, Katelynn Carwile, Sydney Pennington, Julia Cottrill and Chyenne Factor.
Though none of the other five squads had First Team All-Americans, there remains a bevy of standout players.
Four of UCLA’s hitters (Delanie Wisz, Briana Perez, Kinsley Washington, Savannah Pola) played in at least 50 games and hit over .348, while no Bruin pitcher had a WHIP over 1.24. Meanwhile, seven Arizona Wildcats had an on-base percentage of no less than .389. Several other top hitters to watch are Janae Jefferson (Texas), Skylar Wallace (Florida) and Frankie Hammoude (Oregon State). In terms of pitching, keep an eye on Sarah Haendiges (Oregon State), Rylee Trlicek (Florida), Natalie Lugo (Florida), Mariah Mazon (Oregon State) and Hailey Dolcini (Texas).
More particularly, Jayda Coleman (Oklahoma), Factor (Oklahoma State) and Maya Brady (UCLA) were tremendous in last year’s WCWS and are looking to proliferate such performances a year later.
- Northwestern’s student body totals around 22,000, including graduate students, making it the smallest campus among the remaining eight teams. The next-closest mark in terms of student population is Oklahoma State (24,649), while the largest is Florida (53,372).
- Northwestern and Arizona are both represented by Wildcats. 2022 will mark the first WCWS since 2016 to have two teams with the same mascot (Auburn and LSU Tigers).
- NU is the first Big Ten team to make it to Oklahoma City since Minnesota did so in 2019. The Gophers lost to UCLA and Washington, winning no games. The only B1G squad to win it all was Michigan in 2005.
- The last time the Wildcats were in OKC in 2007, Sean Kington’s “Beautiful Girls” had just been released, the Houston Astros were in the National League and Teslas had yet to hit the road.