The NCAA softball tournament field of 64 teams has been whittled down to eight teams and there’s one question that looms over the sport.
Can anyone deny the top-seeded Oklahoma Sooners a second consecutive NCAA title?
We’ll find out soon enough as the Women’s College World Series starts Thursday at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium. Meet the contenders:
Want to know the impact of Title IX?: Look no further than the WCWS & softball in Oklahoma
No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners
Record: 54-2 (17-1 Big 12)
Coach: Patty Gasso, 28th season at OU (1,551-402-3 overall, 1,390-343-2 at OU)
WCWS history: 15th appearance. Won five NCAA titles (last in 2021).
Leading hitter: Senior designated player Jocelyn Alo leads the way with a .497 batting average, 29 home runs and 72 runs batted in.
Leading pitcher: Freshman Jordy Bahl (21-1, 0.95 ERA) has been the Sooners’ ace this season, but the other two starters — Hope Trautwein (18-1, 0.40 ERA) and Nicole May (15-0, 0.99 ERA) — could lead most pitching staffs in the country.
Short hops: The Sooners are vying to become the fifth repeat champion this century, joining UCLA (2003-04), Arizona (2006-07), Florida (2014-15) and OU (2016-17).
Road to OKC: The Sooners have barely broke a sweat so far in the NCAA Tournament, with three run-rule victories in five games. OU opened regional play with a 14-0 win against Prairie View A&M on May 20, held off Texas A&M 3-2 the next day and then routed the Aggies 20-0 for the regional title. In the super regionals, OU beat 16th-seeded UCF 8-0 on May 27 and 7-1 on May 28.
No. 5 UCLA Bruins
Location: Los Angeles
Record: 48-8, 19-5 Pac-12
Coach: Kelly Inouye-Perez, 16th season at UCLA (720-188-1 overall)
WCWS history: 31st appearance. Won an NCAA-best 12 titles (last in 2019).
Leading hitter: Senior infielder Delanie Wisz (.407 average, 14 HRs, 58 RBIs) usually gets on base and she rarely strikes out (17 in 150 at-bats).
Leading pitcher: Senior Holly Azevedo (20-2, 1.19 ERA) and junior Megan Faraimo (22-4, 1.70 ERA) form a stellar combination.
Short hops: The Bruins have the arms to hang with anyone in OKC. Their ERA (1.38) is second to only OU (0.80 ERA).
Road to OKC: Death, taxes and UCLA making it to OKC. The Bruins are undefeated in NCAA play, beating Grand Canyon (12-1), Loyola Marymount (7-1) and Ole Miss (9-1) in regional play and sweeping Duke in the super regionals, 3-2 and 8-2 last weekend.
No. 7 Oklahoma State Cowgirls
Record: 46-12 (14-4 Big 12)
Coach: Kenny Gajewski, sixth season (266-117 overall)
WCWS history: 13th appearance (first since 2021)
Leading hitter: The Cowgirls have five starters hitting above .300 this season, but injured pitcher Miranda Elish (.351 average, seven HRs, 31 RBIs in only 114 at-bats) is a serious threat.
Leading pitcher: Junior Kelly Maxwell (19-4, 1.16 ERA, 279 strikeouts) has been one of the top pitchers in the country all season.
Short hops: Illinois State transfer Morgan Day (13-4, 2.56 ERA) has earned wins against two WCWS teams in OU and Texas.
Road to OKC: After a late-season swoon, the Cowgirls are on an eight-game winning streak that includes a win vs. OU for the Big 12 tournament title. OSU rolled through regionals, beating Fordham (12-0), Nebraska (7-4) and North Texas (2-0). Last weekend in the super regionals, OSU beat Clemson 2-0 and 5-1.
No. 9 Northwestern Wildcats
Location: Evanston, Ill.
Record: 45-11, 19-4 Big Ten
Coach: Kate Drohan, 21st season at Northwestern (703-398-1 overall)
WCWS history: Sixth appearance (first since 2007)
Leading hitter: Graduate student Rachel Lewis (.356 average, 22 HRs, 61 RBIs) has two homers and nine RBIs in the NCAA tournament.
Leading pitcher: Senior Danielle Williams (31-4, 1.86 ERA) has 323 strikeouts in 241 innings pitched.
Short hops: The Wildcats are averaging 8.67 runs per game in the NCAA tournament, tied with OU for the highest mark this postseason. .. Assistant coach Michelle Gascoigne went 49-7 with a 1.65 ERA pitching for OU and was key player on the 2013 NCAA champion Sooners.
Road to OKC: Northwestern rolled in its regional two weeks ago, beating Oakland 9-2 and McNeese twice, 17-3 and 10-2. In the super regionals last weekend at Arizona State, the Wildcats won the opener 4-3 in 11 innings, lost 7-4 in eight innings for Game 2 and then survived the Sun Devils 8-6 on May 29 to advance.
No. 14 Florida Gators
Location: Gainesville, Fla.
Record: 48-17 (13-11 SEC)
Coach: Tim Walton, 17th season at UF (1,007-263 overall, 883-199 at UF)
WCWS history: 11th appearance (first since 2019)
Leading hitter: Junior shortstop Skylar Wallace (.406 average, eight HRs, 53 RBIs, 51 stolen bases) is a do-it-all offensive weapon.
Leading pitcher: Freshman Lexie Delbrey (15-3, 2.20 ERA) led the way for the Gators in the Blacksburg Super Regional.
Short hops: UF coach Tim Walton won an NCAA title with OU as a baseball player (1994) and as a softball assistant coach (2000).
Road to OKC: The Gators weren’t threatened in regional play, routing Canisius 10-1, Georgia Tech 7-1 and Wisconsin 11-0. In the super regionals last weekend at No. 3 Virginia Tech, the Gators were shut out in the opener, 6-0, before storming back to win 7-2 and 12-0.
Location: Tucson, Ariz.
Record: 38-20 (8-16 Pac-12)
Coach: Caitlin Lowe, first season at UA (38-20 overall)
WCWS history: 25th appearance. Won eight NCAA titles (last in 2007).
Leading hitter: Sophomore Allie Skaggs (.371 average, 24 HRs, 58 RBIs) is the biggest power threat in a strong lineup.
Leading pitcher: Sophomore Devyn Netz is 15-7 with a 3.53 ERA.
Short hops: First-year head coach Lowe is no stranger to OKC, having starred on UA’s national championship teams in 2006-07 and then as an assistant coach at her alma mater. … Freshman pitcher Madi Elish (8-3, 4.34 ERA) is the younger sister of Oklahoma State star Miranda Elish.
Road to OKC: After an uneven regular season, the Wildcats have rediscovered their identity in their first postseason since legendary coach Mike Candrea retired last summer. The Wildcats rolled through the Columbia Regional, beating Illinois 8-3 on May 20 and then No. 15 Missouri the next two days, 2-0 and 1-0. UA then traveled to unseeded Mississippi State in the super regionals last weekend and swept the Bulldogs 3-2 and 7-1.
Oregon State Beavers
Location: Corvallis, Ore.
Record: 39-20 (9-15 Pac-12)
Coach: Laura Berg, 10th season at OSU (229-210-1 overall)
WCWS history: Second appearance (first bid since 2006)
Leading hitter: Junior first baseman Frankie Hammoude leads OSU with a .386 batting average and 15 home runs.
Leading pitcher: The Beavers have a 1-2 punch with Sarah Haendiges (13-6, 1.53 ERA) and Mariah Mazon (17-11, 1.60 ERA).
Short hops: Berg was one of college softball’s biggest stars in the 1990s, a four-time All-American who led Fresno State to the NCAA title in 1998. Her 396 career hits are second most in NCAA history.
Road to OKC: The unseeded Beavers advanced out of the Knoxville Regional, beating Ohio State 4-3 in the opener on May 20, losing to No. 10 Tennessee 3-0 on May 21 before reeling off three straight wins (5-1 vs. Ohio State on May 21 and beating UT twice on May 22, 8-3 and 3-1). In the super regionals last weekend, the Beavers held off host Stanford 3-1 and 2-0.
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Location: Austin, Texas
Record: 43-19-1 (12-6 Big 12)
Coach: Mike White, fourth season at UT (591-164-2 overall, 156-53-1 at UT)
WCWS history: Sixth appearance (first since 2013)
Leading hitter: Senior second baseman Janae Jefferson is one of the top players in school history, and she sets the table with a .431 batting average, 70 runs scored and 16 stolen bases.
Leading pitcher: Senior Hailey Dolcini (22-10, 2.19 ERA) has been the Longhorns’ battle-tested ace all season and has 210 strikeouts in 195 innings.
Short hops: The Longhorns are one of the better teams out there on the basepaths, leading the nation in doubles (109).
Road to OKC: The Longhorns did not receive a top-16 seed, despite a strong record and being one of just two teams to beat No. 1 OU this season. UT has been a revenge tour since Selection Sunday, winning the Seattle Regional (beating Weber State 6-0 on May 20, beating No. 11 Washington 8-2 on May 21, losing to UW 2-1 the next day before beating the Huskies again, 3-2, to advance). Texas dropped its super regional opener at No. 4 Arkansas, 7-1, on May 26, but rallied the next two days (3-1 and 3-0) to reach OKC.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: NCAA softball: Women’s College World Series team previews in OKC