-- A strange thing happened on the road to the 2015 Women's College World Series. Specifically, what was strange was that nothing strange happened in the super regional round. Stronger seeds were unbeaten a year ago, a perfect 8-0 in the best-of-three super regionals. That might not seem out of the ordinary, given that those stronger seeds host, but it was the first time since 2007 that there weren't at least two upsets. So if the upsets are to return this time around, who might lead them? These five players are candidates to do just that.
Ali Aguilar, SS, Washington
The junior has amassed 353 at-bats the past two seasons for the 11th-seeded Huskies and has 76 extra-base hits in that span. It seems safe to conclude that she can drive the ball. All right, but maybe she just takes advantage of mediocre pitching, right? In 12 games this season against super regional teams, she hit .389 with seven home runs, two doubles and 12 RBIs. So there's that. Super regional opponent Alabama, the No. 6 seed, can pitch with the best of them, but it also gave up more home runs than all but three SEC teams. Aguilar is the cornerstone of a Washington lineup that loves the long ball.
2016 key stats: .374 BA, 21 HR, 69 RBIs, .853 SLG, .490 OBP
Emily Crane, OF, Missouri
Start with the versatility she brings with her to the Ann Arbor super regional, where 15th-seeded Missouri plays second-seeded Michigan. She's the only player left in the NCAA tournament with at least 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases (she is the only player, period, to reach both of those marks in the SEC or Pac-12). And she doesn't get herself out. She struck out just seven times in Missouri's first 56 games this season. That gives pitchers an impossible choice. Throw it close to the zone and watch what comes with an .829 slugging percentage, or pitch around the senior and watch Missouri's short game pick you apart.
2016 key stats: .415 BA, 17 HR, 25 SB, .526 OBP, .829 SLG
Hannah Flippen, 2B, Utah
The junior solved the Pac-12 like few players ever solved the Pac-12. Flippen hit .542 in conference play. Only one other Pac-12 player was within even a hundred points of that batting average, and that was a slapper without the run production of Flippen's 1.034 slugging percentage. Just four years ago, Utah hit .230 in its first arduous season in the Pac-12. Following Flippen's lead, the unseeded Utes head to the Tallahassee super regional this season after hitting .307 in the conference. Even her mom, a two-time AIAW national champion pitcher at Utah State, might not want to face her these days. We'll see if eighth-seeded Florida State does.
2016 key stats: .422 BA, 13 HR, 15 SB, .740 SLG, .519 OBP
Carley Hoover, P, LSU
Hoover isn't a solo act for 10th-seeded LSU, which started a different pitcher in each of its three regional wins. But when it comes to the task ahead, she is in the same company as Arizona's Danielle O'Toole and Missouri's Paige Lowary. In other words, Hoover has the kind of stuff that, at its best, could win the weekend almost on its own. And matched against two pitchers as accomplished as No. 7 James Madison's Jailyn Ford and Megan Good in the Harrisonburg super regional, the sophomore might need to come close to doing just that if LSU hopes to knock off the No. 7 seed.
2016 key stats: 20-7, 2.25 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 207 K, 171 IP
Mysha Sataraka, 3B, UCLA
A season after UCLA ended what was by its standards an extended World Series drought, the senior could cement a legacy by making it two trips in a row, this time at the expense of conference champion and No. 5 seed Oregon. But that's not the only legacy available to a complete power hitter. Sataraka is one of three Hawaiians on super regional rosters (Washington's Rachel Ogasawara and Kimberlee Souza are the others). A year ago in Oklahoma City, she spoke of both the pride and responsibility she feels representing the sometimes overlooked islands and showing that athletes there only need exposure and opportunity to thrive.
2016 key stats: .366 BA, .756 SLG, .559 OBP, 13 HR, 51 RBIs