Written By: Natalie Hansen

On June 9th, Mary Iakopo concluded her college softball career with the Texas Longhorns in their first-ever appearance in the Women’s College World Series Championship. Not even 5 days later, Iakopo was back on the field when she made her professional debut with the Smash It Sports Vipers in Women’s Professional Fastpitch (WPF). Mirroring the fast-paced nature of the game, Iakopo’s turn around showed us how college softball players quickly started contributing to Women’s Professional Fastpitch in its inaugural season.

What is WPF?

In September 2021, Women’s Professional Fastpitch league announced that they would begin play as a league in Summer 2022. Founded by USA Softball, USSSA, and Smash It Sports, Women’s Professional Fastpitch created an opportunity for elite softball athletes to continue playing the game at the professional level.  With the announcement of the league, WPF released that Lauren Chamberlain, former professional softball player and college standout at Oklahoma, would be the league’s inaugural commissioner. Head quartered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Women’s Professional Fastpitch scheduled a 2022 season ranging from June to August with two in-league teams: the Smash It Sports Vipers and USSSA Pride.

May 20, 2022 marked a special day for the college softball community-it was the first day of regional tournaments and the first-ever WPF College Draft. Women’s Professional Fastpitch drafted 12 college players, and all the players who were selected were from post-season qualifying teams in 2022. While college baseball players had to wait nearly a month after the conclusion of the college season for the draft, these softball athletes played throughout the post-season knowing they had a professional opportunity. The WPF schedule this summer included 9 series all across the United States with matchups between the Vipers and Pride, as well as exhibition games with out-of-league teams.

In the inaugural 2022 season, WPF was able to secure 11 elite college players to compete in the league and round out the professional rosters. The rest of this blog highlights six of the top players that have translated their success at the college level in 2022 to the professional level.

Top 6 WPF Rookie Pros in 2022

Mary Iakopo – Texas – Smash It Sports Vipers

Combining her experience behind the plate at Texas with her ability to hit for power, Iakopo added to a talented Vipers’ roster for the 2022 season.

After starting her college career at Oregon, Iakopo spent the 2019-2022 seasons with the Texas Longhorns. Over the course of her career, she hit 50 home runs, 41 doubles, and 4 triples. In 2022 with the Longhorns, she posted a .333/.424/.594 with 11 home runs and 15 doubles. With runners in scoring position (RISP) Iakopo led the team, generating a .405 BA and 1.114 OPS. Her 7.7% strikeout rate and 11.6% walk rate showed how disciplined she was at the plate. Her season weighted on-base average (wOBA) was .454 and she had .315 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).

Her sprays from 2022 show how Iakopo was able to use the whole field, but with RISP she had pull side power to the outfield, including two home runs to left field. Behind the dish, Iakopo threw out 5 of 15 SBA for the Longhorns. Her hot bat and experience behind the plate helped lead Texas Softball to their first-ever National Championship series appearance.

Less than a week after the end of her college career, Iakopo joined the SIS Vipers for her first professional game on June 14th. Over the course of the summer in WPF*, Iakopo slashed .268/.400/.524. Iakopo ranked 8th in OBP (.400) and 6th in OPS (.924). She finished the season with 14 RBI, 4 doubles, and 1 triple. She blasted a tied-for-4th ranked 5 home runs in the league. Iakopo continued her careful eye at the plate, generating a 17% walk rate in a league-high 100 plate appearances. The highlight of her WPF season was on June 17th when she went 2 for 3 against HFL with 4 RBI, 1 double, 1 walk, and a home run. With her bat and presence behind the plate, Mary Iakopo helped the SIS Vipers go 17-13 in the inaugural WPF season.

* All WPF Statistics are powered by MyBallClub and can be found at https://www.ballclubz.com/wpf

Taylor Ellsworth – Arkansas – USSSA Pride

Known for her ability to generate hits and get on base throughout her college tenure, Ellsworth found her home with the USSSA Pride for the 2022 season.

After spending five seasons at Texas (2017-2021) and appearing in 171 games, Ellsworth played her final college season with the Arkansas Razorbacks in 2022. As a Razorback, she hit .341/.465/.665 with 59 hits and 14 home runs. With runners in scoring position (RISP), she was particularly effective, hitting a .368 BA with a 1.197 OPS. Ellsworth was on fire for the Razorbacks as the home team, posting 13 of her home runs, hitting .405 BA, and generating a 1.357 OPS.  Her overall spray chart for 2022 demonstrates her ability to use the entire field, but her her pull-side power is shown through the majority of left and left-center field home runs.

Ellsworth accumulated a .504 wOBA, .320 ISO and 24.2 wRAA in 2022 for Arkansas, contributing to their historic season.

Two and a half weeks after the end of her college career, Ellsworth played her first professional game. In WPF, Ellsworth hit a .328 BA through 75 plate appearances, with 17 RBI. She ranked 4th in BA for the whole league, 5th in OBP (.427) and 9th in OPS (.880). She had 21 hits and ranked 2nd with 8 doubles on the season. Her 17 RBI tied with Alissa Dalton, ranking 5th in the league. Highlighting her 2022 season was her July 13th game against the SIS Vipers where she went 4 for 4 with 3 doubles and 5 RBI. On August 3rd against CCSL, Ellsworth went 4 for 4 again with 2 doubles and 4 RBI. Ellsworth’s hot bat helped the USSSA Pride go 19-10 on the season.

Jocelyn Alo – Oklahoma – Smash It Sports Vipers

After posting another record-breaking season at college softball powerhouse Oklahoma, fans awaited to hear Jocelyn Alo’s next steps. On June 13th, Alo announced that she would be playing Women’s Professional Fastpitch for the SIS Vipers in 2022.

Alo was also nominated for two ESPYS in 2022: Best Record-Breaking Performance and Best College Athlete, Women’s Sports. She took home the win for Best College Athlete, Women’s Sports for the 2022 ESPYS.

Jocelyn Alo played for the Sooners from 2018-2022, quickly becoming a fan favorite through her ability to hit the long ball. Over the course of her college career, she blasted 122 home runs, breaking former Sooner, former professional player, and current WPF Commissioner Lauren Chamberlain’s home run record. Alo had a career .445 BA and 1.544 OPS, hitting a home run in 12.4% of her college plate appearances. In 2022, Alo slashed .515/.646/1.212 with 85 RBI. Adding to already impressive stats, Alo was even better with RISP. She hit 13 of her 34 home runs with runners on, generated a .600 BA, and a near unheard of 2.227 OPS with RISP.

Alo’s 2022 spray shows her ability to use the left side of the field, but along the outfield edge, we can see how she spread her home runs all over the outfield. Her achievements in 2022 earned her the Big 12 Female Athlete of the Year, Most Outstanding WCWS Player, and NFCA unanimous First-Team All American, and many other honors. Her success in college made her a highly-sought after professional player.

Roughly one week after her National Championship win, Alo laced her cleats back up to compete in WPF with the SIS Vipers. Over the summer, she split time between the USA National Team and Women’s Professional Fastpitch. In WPF*, Alo hit .373/.421/.608 with 18 RBI. Despite having nearly half the plate appearances as other players in the league, she still ranked 4th in RBI, hit 3 home runs, and generated 19 hits. Her best games of the season came on July 4th and August 4th. In her July 4th game vs. Team Mexico, Alo went 3 for 3 with 3 RBI and a double. A month later against S&S Sports, she went 2 for 4 with 5 RBI and a home run, contributing to a 9-0 Vipers’ win. Alo’s participation in Women’s Professional Fastpitch demonstrates an exciting future to come, giving elite college players a professional home after their college career.

Delanie Wisz – UCLA – USSSA Pride

Closing out her college career at the Women’s College World Series with UCLA and landing a spot on the All-Tournament Team, Wisz added her talent to the USSSA Pride for the 2022 WPF season.

Leading the 2022 Bruins in HR (16), Wisz finished her season as a standout for UCLA. Over 205 plate appearances, Wisz posted a .402/.505/.762. Wisz found herself in 86 plate appearances with two strikes on her, and in these situations, she was able to hit .306 BA with a 1.034 OPS. In fact, 7 of her 16 home runs came from at bats that she had two strikes on her. With RISP, Wisz led the Bruins with a spectacular .472 BA, 1.307 OPS, and .492 BABIP. She finished the season with a .550 wOBA, 30 wRAA and 68.28 runs created in 2022.

As a hitter, Wisz was able to spread batted balls throughout the field, making her hard to defend. She also was able to adjust to pitching well, sending home runs all across the outfield. She racked up post season honors, including being picked as a NFCA Division 1 Second Team All-American.

Two and half weeks after her college career ended, Delanie Wisz was back on the field at the professional level with the USSSA Pride. In Women’s Professional Fastpitch this summer, Wisz has continued to succeed, accumulating a .316 BA over 85 plate appearances. She had 24 hits, 7 doubles, and 7 home runs. She ranked 6th in BA (.316), 10th in OBP (.376), and 2nd in OPS (1.061), leading to her success at the plate. Over the summer she hit 7 doubles, ranking second in the league. One of Wisz’ season highlights was when she went 2 for 3 against Team Australia with a 3 run home run in the bottom of the 4th on July 6th. On August 5th against S&S Sports, Wisz went 3 for 3 with 5 RBI, one double, and 2 home runs. Over the course of the 2022 WPF season, Delanie Wisz continued to show just how talented she is, contributing to a successful USSSA Pride lineup.

Gianna Mancha – UCF – Smash It Sports Vipers

Joining a talented SIS Vipers pitching staff, Gianna Mancha has continued her success from UCF in WPF this summer.

During her 2022 campaign for the UCF Knights, Mancha limited opposing hitters to a .170 BAA and a .215 BABIP. She accumulated 222 strikeouts, giving her a 24.9% strikeout rate. She won 1-1 counts 60% of the time and only had a 10.7% walk rate. Mancha finished the season with a 3.24 xFIP, 3.64 SIERA, and .259 wOBA. She led UCF in innings pitched with 185, started 30 games, and appeared in 39, finishing with a 1.82 ERA.

Not even a month after ending the college season, Mancha found her way back to the circle at the professional level, adding depth to the SIS Vipers’ pitching staff. In Women’s Professional Fastpitch this summer, Mancha continued to be a solid arm for the Vipers, throwing 48.1 innings, striking out 33, and only giving up 7 walks. She threw two complete games: one on June 25th against the Florida Vibe and the other on July 12th vs the USSSA Pride. In her June 25th outing, Mancha finished the game with 7 strikeouts and no walks. Her stellar pitching performance, along with teammate Shelbi Sunseri’s walk off hit, allowed the Vipers to beat the Vibe 4-3. In her July 12th game, Mancha held the USSSA Pride to just 1 run, striking out 1 and helping the Vipers win 4-1.

Keely Rochard – VT – USSSA Pride

After a successful tenure at Virginia Tech, Keely Rochard took her talents to Women’s Professional Fastpitch adding to the USSSA Pride pitching staff.

For Virginia Tech in 2022, Keely Rochard served as the ace pitcher, handling nearly 55% of all innings on the season. During this time, she threw 203.2 innings with 819 batters faced. She led her team in batting average against, holding opposing hitters to a .174 BA. Her deceptive pitching gave her a 37.8% whiff rate, contributing to her 40.1% strikeout rate on the year. Along with her ability to gather strikeouts, her control of the zone held her to a 7% walk rate. Her talents in the circle led her to the highest winning percentage in school history, AAC Pitcher of the Year, and a spot as an NFCA First Team All American. She finished off the 2022 season with 1,120 career strikeouts with 9.8 strikeouts per 7 innings. Her dominance in the circle helped land the Hokies a tournament appearance, where they played in the Blacksburg Regional. Rochard made her mark on college softball and on the Virginia Tech softball program.

Only 16 days passed between Keely Rochard’s last college game and her first game in the circle at the professional level. Rochard continued to dominate as a pitcher in WPF, pitching 40.2 innings for the USSSA Pride this past season. She ranked 1st in strikeouts with 45, giving her an average of 1.1 strikeouts per inning pitched. Additionally, her 40.2 innings pitched led the Pride, making her a consistent arm for the squad in 2022. Not only did she accumulate 45 strikeouts, but she also only gave up 26 walks on the season, giving a 1.7 K/BB. During the 2022 WPF season, Rochard had two games where she pitched 6 innings: June 29th and July 13th. In her June 29th outing, she held the SIS Vipers to 2 runs while striking out 8 and walking 6. Her performance helped the Pride win 4-2 over the Vipers that day. In her second 6 inning outing on July 13th, she also held the Vipers to 2 runs, striking out 5 and walking 5, contributing to a 10-2 win for the USSSA Pride. Rochard demonstrated how elite college pitching can continue to dominate at the professional level.

Future of WPF

On July 27, 2022, Women’s Professional Fastpitch announced that they are adding the Oklahoma City Spark as the newest franchised team, set to compete in the 2023 season. Owner’s Tina and Robert Floyd are OKC natives, and they are thrilled to be able to bring a team to the area.

In the press release, Commissioner Lauren Chamberlain noted that, “Signing the dotted line on an Oklahoma City team has been a literal dream come true. If you live here (Oklahoma), chances are you’re a softball fan. To give our young girls the opportunity to witness the professionals of our sport is priceless. We see how Oklahoma supports softball, and I have no doubt that it will do the same with the Spark.” Adding to an already momentous addition, Tina Floyd became the first woman to own a WPF franchise, putting women at the forefront of professional softball in the United States.

Getting attention from the Oklahoma Softball head coach Patty Gasso, the addition of the Oklahoma City Spark to Women’s Professional Fastpitch for the 2023 season demonstrates how professional softball is growing in the United States. With record viewership for the Women’s College World Series in 2022, it is clear that sports fans are ready to embrace softball in full force and continue to grow opportunities in the sport. WPF this summer showed how elite college players performed at a high level as professional athletes. The softball community is excited for these college athletes to continue having professional opportunities in the future.