10 players to watch for in the 2024 NCAA softball championship

The NCAA softball tournament gets underway on May 17 at 16 different sites around the country. There will be great players at each regional location, but which ones should fans make a special point of watching? Here’s a player (or two) at each of the 10 positions fans should seek out during this year’s NCAA softball championship.

NiJaree Canady, P

Team: Stanford Cardinal (Pac-12)

Regional: Stanford

Stanford softball had some good years back in the day, but its current place on the map as an elite team starts in the circle with sophomore ace NiJaree Canady. The righty leads the nation in ERA at 0.50. She is second with 10.6 strikeouts per inning and will have the most Ks per inning in the tournament since Belmont’s Maya Johnson is not in the field. Her 256 strikeouts are first in the Pac-12 by more than 40. She finished five strikeouts behind Boston University’s Kasey Ricard for the most in the country, but did so in 11 fewer appearances. The pitching staff leads the nation in strikeout-to-walk ratio largely because of their ace. If the Cardinal get back to Oklahoma City, it will be on the right arm of Canady.

Jocelyn Erickson, C

Team: Florida Gators (SEC)

Regional: Gainesville

Jocelyn Erickson spent her freshman season at Oklahoma where she won a national title. She did it primarily as the designated player and first baseman. After transferring to Florida, she still has appearances at DP and first base, but she’s spending a lot more time behind the plate in her preferred position. She ranks fourth in the country with 45 total RBI and fifth with 1.29 RBI per game. On top of that, she hits at a .389 clip.

Shaylon Govan, 1B

Team: Baylor Bears (Big 12)

Regional: Lafayette

If the Bears need someone to get on base, Shaylon Govan is going to do it for them. She reaches safely at a .590 clip, good for second in DI this season. Her .444 batting average leads Baylor and is eighth in the country. She also leads the team in total walks (45) and walks per game (.88). She ranks ninth in the nation in walks per game and is tied for 10th in total walks. As with the rest of her teammates, she’s not a big home run hitter, but there’s more than one way to succeed on offense. She’s found a way to be one of the most successful table setters in softball.

Karli Spaid, 3B

Team: Miami (OH) Redhawks (MAC)

Regional: Knoxville

The saying goes that there are good players everywhere. Karli Spaid is proof of that. The Miami Redhawks’ third baseman is the only player in Division I who slugs over 1.000. She leads the nation with a 1.154 slugging percentage. That edges out teammate Jenna Golembiewski whose .983 ranks second. Spaid’s 101 career home runs are second only to former Oklahoma Sooner Jocelyn Alo’s 122 HR in NCAA history. She broke her own MAC single-season record with 34 home runs this season. That’s first in 2024 and tied for the second in NCAA history, trailing No. 1 Laura Espinoza’s 1995 season at Arizona by three HR. This year, Spaid also leads the nation in HR per game (.65), runs scored (72), and runs scored per game (1.38).

Maya Brady and Tiare Jennings, SS

Teams: UCLA Bruins (Pac-12) and Oklahoma Sooners (Big 12)

Regionals: Los Angeles and Norman

There’s no way to pick between these two players. Brady is the two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year who led the conference with 61 RBI and was tied for second with 15 HR this season. She didn’t lead the league in batting average this season but still hit .403.

Tiare Jennings is a three-time national champion on the team that has dominated the past decade. She and Brady both had strong seasons but in slightly different ways. Jennings has four more HR than Brady but her average (.368) and RBI (57) are both lower despite playing more games. On the other hand, Jennings is the stronger defender with a .987 fielding percentage compared to Brady’s .919.

Korbe Otis, OF

Team: Florida Gators (SEC)

Regional: Gainesville

Three of the most exciting outfielders in the sport play left field, so outfielders will be a general category on this list. Korbe Otis has to be on it. Otis was already an All-American at Louisville before she transferred to Florida in the offseason. There’s little doubt that she will be again. She is third in Division I in batting average (.467) and leads all players in on-base percentage (.596). If there’s any criticism of Otis, it’s on the defensive side. She has just a .970 fielding percentage on 100 chances.

Dakota Kennedy, OF

Team: Arizona Wildcats (Pac-12)

Regional: Fayetteville

Centerfield usually has the top outfielders in the game, but this year three of the best play left. Dakota Kennedy is exceptional. She is an exciting true five-tool player who stands out in all aspects of the game. Like offense? She can hit it out, lay a bunt down for a base hit, and steal a base. She hits .400 and leads the powerful Wildcat offense with a 1.177 OPS. Like defense? Any ball hit anywhere near left field is unlikely to hit the ground. Whether it’s right at her, in foul territory, or shallow, Kennedy is going to get to it. She has no fear and will dive for the out without a second thought. She has a perfect fielding percentage in 104 chances to lead the Arizona outfield. The Wildcats have the second-best fielding percentage in the nation (.982) and the best among power conference teams. Kennedy is a huge reason why.

Claire Davidson, OF

Team: Duke Blue Devils

Regional: Durham

Duke’s left fielder was the ACC Player of the Year this season. Her .531 OBP was second in the ACC. She led the league with a 1.439 OPS and an .893 slugging percentage. She was fourth in the ACC with in batting average (.423) and fifth in HR (16). If the Blue Devils are to advance from their home regional, she will be the key.

Reese Atwood, DP

Team: Texas Longhorns

Regional: Austin

Reese Atwood is listed as C/1B on the Texas roster, but she got enough starts at designated player to qualify for this spot. The sophomore led the nation in total RBI (86) and RBI per game (1.59). She broke the Longhorns’ program records in HR (22) and total RBI on the way to being named Big 12 Player of the Year. Her .427 average was 18th in the country.

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