The fifth Puerto Vallarta College Challenge will feature another impressive roster of Division-I softball programs, who will get the rare pleasure of firing up the 2020 season in the only D-1 event held outside of the United States. Teams play at the revamped, refurbished Nancy Almaraz Stadium in the perfect warm-weather start to the season ahead. Here’s a capsule look at the 13 teams playing in Puerto Vallarta:
Session 1, Feb. 6-9
BYU (30-26 in 2019, 12-3 West Coast Conference, reached NCAA Regionals)
The Cougars have played in three of the previous four PV College Challenges. The offense will be paced by the skilled, steady Rylee Jensen, who hit .381 last year as a junior and led the team in extra-base hits and walks. She developed her strong arm throwing potatoes with and at her three brothers on the family farm. Arissa Paulson is the other returner with an above-.300 batting average from last year (.304), and she was a primary pitcher as well, winning 15 games with a 2.74 ERA. The other main hurler is junior-to-be Autumn Moffat (13 wins, 2.54 ERA). Head coach Gordon Eakin has 671 wins in 17 years at BYU.
George Washington (44-18, 15-7 Atlantic 10, lost at NISC Liberty Regional)
The Colonials are on the upswing; win totals since 2014 have been 18, 25, 23, 28, 33 and 44, and last year the team hit .341 overall under first-year head coach Shane Winkler. Sierra Lange has a terrific sophomore season in 2018, hitting .411 and adding 17 stolen bases, and the Texas Glory Adkins Gold product also threw 272 innings, notching 31 wins with a 2.81 ERA. Jenna Cone was another impact bat for GW; as a junior she hit .381 and had 67 RBI, and she has a chance to finish near the all-time NCAA Top 20 in RBI with a productive senior campaign. Cone’s total of 20 home runs was tied for 11th nationally.
Long Beach State (25-25, 12-9 Big West)
The Beach graduated a talented group; back for more is junior Alyssa Gonzalez, who sat a year after transferring from Ole Miss and hit .338 with 40 RBI last year. The heart of the pitching staff is back with seniors Kellie White (11 wins, 138 innings, 2.89 ERA) and Ashley Coleman (13 wins, 134 innings, 3.08 ERA). The Beach will hope for a boost from two California natives who are transfers, graduate Abby Lockman (Tennessee) and Kyra Snyder (Louisville). Head coach Kim Sowder has run the program for 13 years and posted 424 career victories.
Nevada (29-27, 11-13 Mountain West, lost at NISC Nevada Regional)
The Wolf Pack are fueled by Reno native Sadaria McAlister, who as a junior hit .361, and classmate Sierra Mello, who closed at .353. Senior-to-be Kenzi Goins had a team-high 10 home runs and hit .314, and Hawaii native Dallas Millwood drove in 52 runs as a freshman. There are some innings that need to be filled at pitcher, but Kendall Fritz did nice work as a freshman (11 wins, 154 innings, 3.82 ERA). In all three years under head coach Josh Taylor, the Wolf Pack has made the field of the NISC postseason tournament.
Oklahoma (57-6, 18-0 Big 12, lost to UCLA in NCAA Finals)
The Sooners roll out a harrowing lineup annually; returning junior Jocelyn Alo (an OC Batbusters product) is a .399 career hitter, and returning pitcher Giselle Juarez has one year left after going 28-4 last year with a 1.39 ERA and 269 strikeouts in 186.1 innings. The team is young and affected a bit from transfers and graduation, but look for impact from Auburn transfer Taylon Snow, who hit .324 for the Tigers last year and started 52 games at shortstop. Snow is recovering from shoulder surgery. Oklahoma has won four NCAA titles under head coach Patty Gasso, who has won almost 80 percent of her games at OU.
Oregon (22-30, 5-19 Pac-12)
The Ducks dealt with a dramatically reworked roster last year and saw some valuable pieces emerge. As a freshman, Jasmine Sievers hit .326 and added 15 doubles, and classmate Allee Bunker chipped in with a team-high 32 runs while hitting .347. Junior-to-be Jordan Dail did all the heavy lifting at pitcher after transferring from Virginia Tech, closing with 18 wins, 248 innings, 240 strikeouts and a 4.12 ERA. Second-year coach Melyssa Lombardi has been looking for supplements to the pitching staff and will look to freshman righthander Makenna Kliethermes.
Utah Valley (15-31, 7-11 Western Athletic)
The Wolverines are led by senior-to-be Lyndsay Steverson, who hit .331 last year with 20 extra-base hits. Classmate Devyn Cretz is the leading light in the pitching circle, as she had 11 wins last year and 172.2 innings pitched. The roster will get a boost from JUCO all-American and Texas native Jade Miller, who hit .466 with 18 home runs last year and was a top-100 player (FloSoftball) as a high school senior. Head coach TJ Hubbard is entering his fourth year at Utah Valley; he’s rebuilding a program that won nine games in 2016.
Session 2, Feb. 13-16
Cal Baptist (21-33, 8-10 Western Athletic)
The Lancers were chugging along nicely in their first year as a D-I program, stumbling at the end with a seven-game losing skid. In anticipation of eight seniors departing, head coach Bill Baber has a class of 11 players (all California natives) ready to go for 2020. This year’s top returning hitter is Caitlyn Lloyd, who as a junior hit .331 and scored 23 runs. Classmate Brittany Galvez closed at .322 with a team-high 22 extra-base hits. Junior-to-be Giana Lopez threw 111 innings last year, but playing time in the circle for 2020 is wide open.
Colorado State (39-12, 18-6 Mountain West, reached NCAA Regionals)
One of the surprise programs from last year, the Rams won their first NCAA tournament game since 1997 and had their best-ever win total including 20 in a row. Kentucky transfer Ashley Ruiz is back for her senior year; she hit .386 with 11 home runs and will be backed by junior-to-be Tara Shadowen, who finished at .352 with 14 home runs. In the circle, Jessica Jarecki is the primary returner after going 15-4 last year with 121 innings and a 2.65 ERA. Head coach Jen Fisher enters her 10th season with the program.
Ole Miss (41-20, 13-10 Southeastern, reached NCAA Super Regionals)
The Rebels are looking for that next bounce after a notable season; it marked the second-highest win total for the program and the highest finish (5th) in the SEC. Abbey Latham’s sophomore year saw her hit .330 with 23 extra-base hits, 17 stolen bases and 54 RBI; six freshmen got time last year, with Tate Whitley hitting .290. Lefty Molly Jacobsen is the primary returning pitcher; the senior-to-be won 14 games, pitched 166 innings and had a 2.15 ERA with 166 strikeouts. Head coach Mike Smith enters his sixth season; the Rebels were picked to finish 12th in the SEC last year.
Tennessee (43-17, 14-10 Southeastern, reached NCAA Super Regionals)
The Volunteers needed one more win to reach the Women's College World Series; with more than a dozen players returning, spirits are higher than ever. Ashley Rogers had a stellar freshman debut, winning 21 games with 209 strikeouts in 173.3 innings and a 1.94 ERA, with senior-to-be Caylan Arnold (11 wins, 2.26 ERA) a reliable force in the circle. Chelsea Seggem hit .366 as a junior and had 24 extra-base hits and a .471 OBP; Kaitlyn Parsons is a major factor after her freshman year -- she hit .340 and stole 12 bases. Co-coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly have guided the program for 18 seasons and will top 900 career victories this season.
Texas (46-17, 12-6 Big 12, reached NCAA Super Regionals)
The Longhorns were a topic of conversation all year after head coach Mike White took over after leaving Oregon; the team responded and was just one game short of making the WCWS. Junior-to-be Janae Jefferson hit a robust .408 with 39 runs, striking out just seven times in 196 at-bats; classmate Mary Iakopo hit .356 and drove in 43 runs with a .461 OBP. Pitching muscle is found in Miranda Elish, who as a junior won 18 games, struck out 226 batters in 185.3 innings and had a 1.81 ERA. The offense should get a lift from UCLA transfer Colleen Sullivan, who started 32 games for the eventual 2019 national champion.
Utah (19-35, 7-17 Pac-12)
The Utes put three players on the all-conference team, including senior-to-be Alyssa Barrera (.376, .432 OBP, 20 extra-base hits) and Julia Noskin (.318, nine stolen bases). Two transfers are suiting up; Charles Pond (Ohio) hit .323 as a freshman in 41 starts, and Elicia Espinosa (Texas), who showed plenty of power as a prep star in Colorado. The most experienced pitcher coming back is sophomore-to-be Sydney Sandez, who threw a team-high 130 innings last year. Head coach Amy Hogue has more than 500 career wins.
Triple Crown Sports
Based in Fort Collins, CO., Triple Crown Sports has been producing events in youth athletics and the college ranks for more than 35 years. TCS runs both the preseason and postseason WNIT basketball events, powers the “WNIT” model of the NISC (softball) and NIVC (volleyball) postseason events and produces the men’s and women’s Cancun Challenge tournaments in November, which have been recognized by Sports Illustrated as a top-5 destination tournament for D-I basketball programs. TCS youth fastpitch tournaments (including the 1,000-team Sparkler/Fireworks event) draw the nation’s finest club programs, and hundreds of college coaches attend TCS events for recruiting purposes.