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UCF’s Big 12 Questions: Will Softball Keep Dancing?

We answer the 12 biggest questions facing UCF Athletics in 2023-24 and beyond

Karissa Ornelas Softball Florida Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics

The 2023-24 UCF Knights Athletics season is underway, and in honor of UCF’s accession into the Big 12 Conference, we will present our version of 12 for 12. For the next 12 days, we will tackle what we think are the 12 biggest questions facing UCF Athletics in the coming year across all sports.

Our next question is on the diamond:

7. Will Softball be able to maintain its high level of success against the Big 12’s juggernaut programs?

Jeff: Yes, but it will be hard at first. The Big 12 is a total gauntlet in softball. Even with Oklahoma and Texas moving on, the Big 12 will gain more softball power from the Arizona schools and BYU once they join, and the league is going to count on them and Oklahoma State to continue its habit of sending between three and five teams to the tournament yearly.

I think Softball will be tough. Losing OU and UT to the SEC means those schools will probably take at least one typically annual Big 12 bid with them. So the house gets even more crowded with at-large hopefuls. UCF carved itself a nice niche as a consistent at-large tournament performer over the last several years in The American, but with the competition level jumping up in the Big 12, it might be tougher to break through on an annual basis.

Eric: Short term, this is Season #23 for the program. That is fitting since that was Michael Jordan’s number and it will be the “Last Dance” for this large senior class that helped take UCF to new heights, winning 40-plus games three straight seasons with three NCAA Tournament appearances and one regional championship.

Long term, It will depend on what help the program gets. Will it get much-needed renovations to the Softball Complex? If so, when? This will be an underlying storyline in 2024 and beyond as the Knights enter a conference that, with the Pac-12 on the verge of dissolution, is set up to be a top-two league in softball in the coming years.

Bryson: If they are, the upcoming 2024 season is going to be their best chance to do so. It will be the last season for standouts Jada Cody, Shannon Doherty, Chloe Evans, Sarah Willis, and more.

It’s really going to come down to the team’s depth at pitcher. Sarah Willis can’t put the team on her back like she did during this year’s AAC Tournament in Tampa. While a Big 12 Championship is a major ask with Oklahoma still around for one more year if head coach Cindy Ball-Malone’s new additions at the mound pan out then UCF could get itself back into the Super Regionals.

Andrew: College sports are cyclical, but UCF’s softball program, while young as an offered sport, has done pretty well over the years. The softball program started in 2002 and since then, UCF has made 10 NCAA regionals and one super regional between head coaches Renee Luers-Gillispie and Cindy Ball-Malone.

Doing the math, if you exclude 2020, which had its season canceled with the Knights sitting on a 21-5-1 record, they have made it to the NCAAs in 10 out of 21 seasons. That’s 47.6% with appearances in the last three seasons. It was likely the 2020 squad would have also made it. The Knights have made the postseason in six of the nine seasons as a member of the AAC. That’s not bad at all.

There could be some growing pains adjusting to the Big 12, but softball is a big sport in Florida and the Knights should have little issue being able to recruit and remain pretty regularly in the NCAA tournament discussion.