North Georgia is officially a DII softball powerhouse, and quite arguably, the DII softball powerhouse of the past decade. The Nighthawks claimed their second national championship since 2015 over Grand Valley State and finish the season atop the polls, including our own Power 10 rankings.
Before we get into these final Power 10 rankings, it is important to remember that punching your ticket to Chattanooga, Tennessee for the finals doesn't guarantee a top-8 finish. The final Power 10 rankings are more of a composite of the full season, and leaving teams like Tampa and UIndy out of this conversation because they didn't make the final eight seems silly.
Instead, these rankings use some of the metrics the selection committee uses come tournament time, as well as overall record, statistical rankings and a few other key pieces. Basically, be prepared to disagree.
The final DII softball Power 10 rankings of 2023
1. North Georgia. The easiest pick on the list. The Nighthawks swept a very good Grand Valley State team to win its second national championship in the past eight tournaments (nine years, including the shortened COVID-19 season). The Nighthawks have made the final eight several times over that span, including trips the past three years in a row. Just one of their everyday position players was a senior, and no one on the pitching staff is listed higher than a junior. Let's go ahead and pencil them in as contenders for the first repeat championship of the 2000s. Sophie Mooney did just about everything for the Nighthawks, leading the team in hitting with a .442 average, 15 doubles, 11 home runs and 71 RBI while going 10-2 in the circle with a 2.30 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, a team-high three saves, and 88 strikeouts in 90 innings pitched.
2. UT Tyler. I know Lakers fans are going to be angry since GVSU out-dueled the Patriots in the DII softball championship finals, but one game doesn't make a season. UT Tyler was 62-6 this year and has won 111 games in the past two seasons as a DII softball tournament-eligible program (the Patriots were transitioning from Division III). Both seasons ended in the finals, and now they look to the next step — and that is winning it all. The Patriots won 37 games in a row prior to that loss to GVSU and were utterly dominant right up to the semifinals. This team could hit for average, had plenty of pop, and was so good in the circle (a combined 1.57 ERA and 1.00 WHIP) where they were led by Tatum Goff, who was DII pitcher of the year with a history-making 41-game winning streak during the season.
3. Grand Valley State. Heading into the tournament, I said the Lakers were the most dangerous team in the field because they had the two best players on each side of the ball remaining. Lydia Goble, who is a Lakers hitting legend, had three multi-hit games in Chattanooga, while Hannah Beatus was so good in the circle. She may have finished her season in the loss column, but it doesn't take away from the year that was, where she went 30-3 with a 0.91 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 225 strikeouts in 206.2 innings pitched. When you think about the teams the Lakers beat to get to the final series (Midwest No. 1 UIndy, DII softball finals No. 1 UT Tyler, and a Central Oklahoma team ranked No. 4 in the country heading into the finals) it proves why they are ranked so highly.
HISTORIC SATURDAY: Being on hand at Day 3, a day of firsts at the DII softball championship
4. Central Oklahoma. The Bronchos had another very strong season, because it seems like that's just what the Bronchos do. They swept through the MIAA tournament, taking down defending champion Rogers State there, then swept through their regional before taking two of three from Southern Arkansas. Once in Chattanooga, they made it to the semifinals, where their only two losses were to the eventual national champion and national runner-up. I'll go ahead and say it right now: If freshman Emily Deramus is back in this lineup next season, we are looking at the potential player of the year. She was not only impressive all year but shined on the big stage of Chattanooga with a couple big hits as well.
5. Tampa. If Lakers fans were mad at me for their ranking, Sharks fans are going to be furious about this one. But again, these are encapsulating (or at least trying to) the full season. Tampa finished the year 44-5 and entered the super regionals as the No. 1 team in the land behind the top RPI in DII softball. They fell to Nova Southeastern in a wild South Region that went the distance, and every victory came in shutout fashion. Mariah Galhouse was so strong this season (14-4, three saves, 1.38 ERA with a .319 batting average and 14 extra base hits at the plate) but freshman Gwen McGinnis (12-0, three saves, 0.81 ERA) is the future for Tampa in the circle. Look for the Spartans to be back in the mix in 2024.
6. East Stroudsburg. As head coach Jaime Wohlbach said on Day 3 on the tournament, "we're Warriors, that's what we do." East Stroudsburg had a magically historic season, recording the most wins in a single season (44) and its first trip to the DII softball finals. Win No. 44 was also historic, a memorable pitchers' duel that picked up the Warriors' first-ever win in the final field of eight. Paige Zigmund (who was dominant in that historic win) and Leigh Ann Jenkins were so strong in the circle all season long. With Jenkins in her graduate season, Zigmund will be the ace and you can go ahead and pencil her in as a candidate for national pitcher of the year in 2024.
7. Nova Southeastern. Okay, here are the Sharks. And what a season it was. The Sharks were a .500 team just two seasons ago and continue to improve — this year increasing their win total by five games and reaching the DII softball championship finals for the first time in program history. Head coach Julie LeMaire is building a solid foundation and if they can get some of these pieces back — like ace Alyssa Drogemuller — they are in great shape for next season. Of course, the Sharks play in a conference that has the likes of Tampa and Saint Leo, which makes it all the more impressive how far they went this season.
8. UIndy. The Greyhounds were another team that was so strong until they ran into the buzzsaw that was Grand Valley State. Both games in the super regionals were tightly contested, but that is where UIndy's season ended. A 53-10 record is nothing to scoff at and shows how strong this team was from start to finish. As it seems is always the case, UIndy made its living in the circle where junior Kenzee Smith (34-6, four saves, 1.27 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 246 strikeouts) and sophomore Jayden Casebolt (10-3, 1.98 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) led the charge. If both are back for the Greyhounds in 2024, they seem like the team to beat.
9. West Texas A&M. The Buffs were so strong all season long, and showed that by defeating a very good, top-10 Colorado Christian team twice to reach the super regionals. There, they fell to UT Tyler, but it doesn't diminish one thing about this 50-win season. Ruby Salzman had another fantastic season leading this lineup, finishing with a .391 average, 16 doubles and 23 home runs, bringing her career total to 70 as one of the steadiest sluggers in recent DII history. While the Buffs may lose some in the circle, there is plenty returning that is going to make this team — which has won it all twice in the past decade — very scary in 2024.
10 (tie). Wilmington (DE), Cal State San Marcos. There was a case for both Concordia (CA) and Colorado Christian to take this final spot, but I gave the DII softball championship newbies the edge to share the final spot. For the Wildcats, they had a historic season and had to beat an Adelphi team that had some of the best pitching in DII softball. Entering the tournament, I said the Cougars were the most dangerous six seed and they proved why, winning upset over upset, sweeping West Region No. 1 Concordia, and then picking up the program's first win in the finals. With both Jayline Sloss and Savannah Cole expected back in the circle, this team won't be a six seed next year.
First five (ish) out (in alphabetical order)
- Colorado Christian
- Concordia (CA)
- Saint Leo/ Wingate