Oregon State has risen to No. 11 in the nation.
This would be great news if there weren't five other Pacific-10 Conference teams ahead of the Beavers: No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Arizona, No. 3 Stanford, No. 6 Cal and No. 9 Arizona. And Washington has fallen to a lowly No. 12.
Welcome to softball, Pac-10 style, where you can finish next to last and still be in the top 20 every year. The only team not expected to break into the poll: Oregon.
The Beavers are 16-4 in preseason, warm-weather tournament play. They have wins over Alabama, Notre Dame and Washington Ñ only the sixth victory versus the Huskies in 35 games.
'We are, by far, better than last year,' says coach Kirk Walker, whose eight-year record is 231-214-3 (52-124 Pac-10). 'We haven't played better yet, but we are better.'
The Beavers' strength is pitching, and all three hurlers have Portland ties: Sophomore Monica Hoffman, from Vancouver, Wash., attended Central Catholic; Kristen Hunter, a transfer from Fresno State, attended Westview High; and Crystal Draper, who prepped at Hood River, played in the Mount Hood Conference.
'All three are capable of beating anybody in the country,' Walker says.
Hoffman's 0.79 ERA leads the team. Hunter, a left-hander, has a 1.42 ERA, and Draper has 77 strikeouts with only three walks.
'Top players from Portland and the Northwest had traditionally gone away from the area,' Walker says. 'We've been fortunate to sign and keep top Northwest talent here, and they're just as competitive as anybody in the country.'
Junior Brynnen Guthrie leads the team with 20 RBIs. Junior third baseman Clare Burnum leads in batting average (.400). The top newcomer is Kelly Petersen, who replaced all-league Shawna Feldt at shortstop.