On February 2, 2002, the UCF Softball program made its debut in Daytona Beach, splitting a double-header with Arkansas and Bethune-Cookman.
20 years, 8 NCAA Tournament appearances, 5 regional final appearances, and 5 conference regular and tournament championships later, the UCF Knights begin season 21 this week, as they host a tournament against No. 12 Georgia, Minnesota, Fresno State, and Longwood.
The Knights finished last season at 41-19-1 overall, making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016.
Here’s what you need to know for the 2022 season as we talk with head coach Cindy Ball-Malone, as well as Gianna Mancha and Denali Schappacher in our latest podcast:
UCF finished in third place in a strong AAC last year with a 16-7-1 league record thanks to some uneven scheduling due to COVID cancellations around the league (the one tie kept UCF out of second place despite having the same number of wins and losses as USF, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bulls). Wichita State won the conference in the regular season and defeated UCF, 7-4, in the AAC Championship in Tulsa.
The Knights went 41-19-1 overall, which marked their first 40-win campaign since 2015, and tied Wichita State (41-13) for the most overall wins in the conference. They finished with an RPI of 32 thanks to multiple key wins in the non-conference season — most notably a season sweep over Florida, which included an 8-6 walk-off thriller on March 24 in Orlando:
A great night to be a Knight!@karissa_ornelas delivered a walk-off two-run home run to give No. 22 UCF the win over in-state opponent No. 5 Florida in Orlando on Wednesday.#NCAASoftball x @UCF_Softball pic.twitter.com/l74xn7I4EL— NCAA Softball (@NCAASoftball) March 25, 2021
UCF went to the Tallahassee Regional and fought their way to the final with wins over Auburn and Kennesaw State before falling to Florida State, 2-0.
The 2022 #AmericanSB Preseason Coaches' Poll is HERE ⬇— American Softball (@American_SBall) January 11, 2022
The defending champs @GoShockersSB were predicted by the conference head coaches to repeat. We are so excited for softball season! @USFSoftball @UCF_Softball @UHCougarSB @TulsaSoftball @MemphisSoftball @ECUSoftball pic.twitter.com/yBL48n6TPs
UCF was picked third in The American’s preseason poll, behind Wichita State and USF.
Here’s our interview with head coach Cindy Ball-Malone:
Who To Watch
Senior P Gianna Mancha
Mancha went 14-6 with a 2.42 ERA over 147.2 innings pitched in 2021, striking out 139 batters and holding opponents to a .197 average. She earned NFCA Mideast Third Team All-Region and American Athletic Conference Second Team All-Conference honors at the end of the 2021 campaign, and made the NCAA Tournament for third time in her career (she did it with Boise State in 2018 and 2019). Mancha will lead the staff in 2022.
Senior OF Denali Schappacher
Schappacher enters her senior season with a career .333 batting average, which is 2nd-best in program history. She has a career .398 OBP, which is 6th best in program history and will lead the outfield.
3B/C Jada Cody
Cody became the first Knight to get an invite for the USA Softball Selection Trials this past January after a standout 2021 season.
Cody was named to The American’s all-conference first team and rookie team and also earned a spot on the NFCA Mideast Third Team All-Region squad. Cody led the Knights with 44 runs scored in 2021, hit .324, and posted an OPS of .912. She also hit seven homers and drove in 28 RBI.
1B Shannon Doherty
Doherty is coming off a 2021 season in where she hit .307, slugged 11 homers, drove in 37 runs, and posted a .944 OPS. Her 11 home runs was tied for 5th most by any Knight in a single season.
Hear from Gianna Mancha and Denali Schappacher:
Who We’ll Miss
P Alea White
White ended her Knights career as all-time leader in wins, appearances, and starts just to name a few. She is now a graduate assistant on the coaching staff.
Tons of new faces to pick from with 9 new players, but we’ll try to limit it to two key transfers and two key freshmen:
OF Johneisha Rowe
Rowe figures to start at CF coming over from Florida Gulf Coast, where she hit .388 and stole 49 bases in two seasons.
P Kama Woodall
Woodall joins the Knights after four seasons of collegiate softball, playing at NC State in her freshman and sophomore seasons followed by two seasons at ECU. She brings experience to staff with 99 games appeared over her four seasons, having worked 390 innings and earning a 3.36 ERA. Woodall is familiar to UCF as she faced the Knights four times in 2021 as a member of the Pirates.
P Kaitlyn Felton
Felton was rated the #63 overall player in Extra Innings Softball’s Top 100 Players of 2021, which made her the highest-ranked UCF pitching recruit since Shelby Turnier.
C Ashleigh Griffin
Griffin was rated 70th in Extra Innings Softball’s Top 100 Players of 2021, and will bring power to lineup.
Who’s on the Schedule
We've got our starting point...now it's time to climb— UCF Softball (@UCF_Softball) February 1, 2022
We're scheduled to face 10 teams in the @NFCAorg Top 25 and another four who are receiving votes to begin the 2022 season ⚔ #ChargeOnhttps://t.co/5IMO0Pzjfu
Here are some key dates and opponents you want to circle on your calendar:
- Thursday, Feb. 10 vs. #12 Georgia
- Friday, Feb. 18 vs. #16 Michigan (in Clearwater)
- Saturday Feb. 19 vs. #22 Tennessee (in Clearwater)
- Saturday Feb. 19 vs. #10 Texas (in Clearwater)
- Sunday Feb. 20 vs. #4 Florida State (in Clearwater)
- Saturday Feb. 26 vs. #17 James Madison
- Sunday Feb 27 vs. #6 Florida
- Fri-Sun March 25-27 at South Florida
- Sunday-Monday, April 3-4 vs. #13 Virginia Tech
- Fri-Sun May 6-8 at #25 Wichita State
- Thursday May 12-Saturday May 14 — AAC Softball Championship at ECU
NOTE: UCF was supposed to host the AAC Championship, but it got pulled after the Knights announced they were leaving The American for the Big 12.