The 2022 DII softball season is upon us. Prior to the season, we broke down the five top teams to beat in 2022. This time, let’s dig a little deeper in the rankings and look at five must-watch teams that could very well be contenders for the DII softball championship in Denver, Colorado.

The Golden Bears were 33-15 last season but saw a disappointing finish in both the PSAC tournament and Atlantic Regional. This team returns plenty from the roster that will have a chip on their shoulder. Both Jenna Lipowski — who led the team in average and home runs — and Brianna Hughes — who added 11 home runs herself — are back. Hannah Auvil and Kate Ostaszewski, who led the team in doubles with 17 and 19 respectively, are also back. The Bears had three pitchers tally at least 10 wins last season and, you guessed it, all three — Bridget Bailey, Amber Brugger and Sarah Harvey — are back. That is a lot of experience on one roster.

Pay attention to these 5 DII softball teams in the 2022 season

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It’s fair to have forgotten about the Wildcats since the CCAA didn’t take the field last season. However, last time we saw Chico State was in 2020 before COVID-19 shut down the season. The Wildcats were 19-2 and No. 2 in DII softball. Seven of those starters are back in 2022. That includes Reilani Peleti, who led the Wildcats with a .415 average, and Amanda Metzger, who led the team in home runs. They will have to look to replace ace Sam Mulock, but Brooke Larsen was 9-2 with a 1.27 ERA in 2020 and seems very capable. Expect this team to make a run for the DII softball championship.

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The Eagles had a strong 2021, finishing 38-9, and unlike the previous two teams on this list, they are in the NFCA preseason top 25, coming in at No. 15. The Lone Star Conference is loaded, and the Eagles, right now on paper, may be entering the season as the third- or fourth-best team in their conference. Don't sleep on them. Kali Crandall is back in the circle, and she alone makes this a special team. Crandall went 24-3 last year with a 1.91 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 161 innings. This is arguably the toughest conference in the toughest region, so she will have to have a pitcher-of-the-year campaign for the Eagles to go far.

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Like Oklahoma Christian, the Chargers play in a loaded conference with Valdosta State, Auburn Montgomery and West Florida all tournament contenders. That may leave some to overlook the Chargers, but that would be foolish. This team hit .315 last season with a combined .872 OPS and Kiara Akles, Mackenzie Nutt and Lila Young — last year’s top-three hitters — are all back. Akles is also one of three pitchers back in the circle that made at least 14 appearances last season. Yes, the Gulf South Conference is looking like one of the best this season, and the Chargers should make things interesting.

The Spartans will have their hands full with a Rollins team that could very well make this list as well. Tampa enters the season receiving votes in the NFCA poll but return Mariah Galhouse and Corynn Miner. The pitching duo allowed just 20 earned runs over 155 innings. That was a DII-best 0.94 ERA, and the next closest was Saint Anselm at 1.01. This isn’t a team that will score a lot of runs with the long ball, but with pitchers like that back in the circle, the Spartans may need to score only once or twice to win ball games.