1. USC: The Trojans, who won a school-record nine times last season, return the past two NCAA individual champions (Doris Chen, Annie Park) and a top-5 player in junior Kyung Kim. Though it lost Sophia Popov to graduation, USC is remarkably deep, especially with 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Gabby Then anchoring the bottom of the lineup.
2. Stanford: Sophomore Mariah Stackhouse is a legitimate Player of the Year candidate, while junior Lauren Kim was a top-10 player ayear ago. Add freshmen Shannon Aubert and Calli Ringsby to the mix, and theCardinal is a team with serious national-title aspirations.
3. UCLA: Sophomore Alison Lee is the reigning Player of the Year, but the Bruins might not be able to count on her – she’ll be out of action with the Women’s Amateur Team Championship and then Q-School in the fall. It’d be a huge blow if she leaves LA, as the Bruins would then have to rely upon top-10 machine Erynne Lee and a supporting cast (Louise Ridderstrom and Bronte Law) that is still learning.
4. Arizona: The Wildcats have loads of international talent and good experience up and down the roster, and the addition of top freshman Krystal Quihuis makes ’Zona a dark-horse title contender. Granted, this team should have been in this position last year, but ultimately ended the season at No. 11. There are no excuses now.
5. Arkansas: Juniors Gaby Lopez and Regina Plasencia are a dynamic 1-2 punch for the Razorbacks, who welcome one of the best freshmen classes, in addition to transfer Samantha Marks. Intense competition for the Nos. 3-5 spots ensures this group can win any event it enters.