ST. LOUIS – Illinois State, 2012’s tournament champion, and Southern Illinois have been picked as this year’s preseason favorites in Missouri Valley Conference softball as voted by the league’s coaches. The Redbirds and Salukis each earned 85 points and two first-place votes. This year could be one of the most competitive for the top spot as only five points separate the top four. UNI took three first-place votes and third-place (82 points) with Creighton receiving three first-place votes as well and fourth-place (80 points).
Strong leadership will be the key to Illinois State’s success this year with their three 2013 MVC Preseason All-Conference seniors. Jhavon Hamilton (2012 NFCA DI All-Mideast First Team, three-time MVC All-Conference Second Team), Elizabeth Kay (2011 NFCA All-Mideast Region First Team, two-time MVC All-Conference First Team) and Lauren Kellar (2012 All-Tournament and All-Conference Second Team) look to make the program’s tenth NCAA Tournament appearance and fourth-consecutive. The Redbirds also received two votes in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Preseason Poll.
For Southern Illinois, four 2013 MVC Preseason All-Conference team honorees in first baseman Taylor Orsburn (two-time All-Conference First Team), second baseman Jayna Spivey (2012 All-Tournament and All-Conference Second Team), catcher Allie VadeBoncouer (2012 All-Tournament and All-Conference First Team) and outfielder Morgan Barchan will lead the charge. The four combined for 132 of the Salukis’ 267 RBIs with VadeBoncouer leading the league (51). Back on the mound is Katie Berterlsen, who ranked ninth in all NCAA Division I in saves.
UNI, last year’s regular-season champion, returns 2012 All-Conference team members Jamie Fisher and Samantha Reimer. Fisher had an outstanding 2012 campaign as she was named to the 2012 Easton NCAA DI Second Team All-American Team, 2012 NFCA DI All-Midwest First Team, MVC Pitcher of the Year and MVC All-Conference First Team after winning 20 games, leading the Valley in ERA (13th in the NCAA) and was second in batters struck out.
Creighton, the coaches’ fourth-place pick, returns 11 letterwinners (7 starters, 4 pitchers) and is represented on the 2013 Preseason All-Conference team by Amy Baker, Alexis Cantu, Ellen Homan and Becca Changstrom. In her first year as a Bluejay, Cantu earned 2012 NFCA DI All-Midwest Second Team honors, MVC All-Conference and Newcomer of the Year accolades after slugging .802 and hitting 17 homeruns. Baker’s 2012 campaign saw a .340 batting average and 46 RBIs, while Changstrom struck out 177 and pitched to 17 victories.
Drake was voted as fifth-place with 62 points as they bring back seven starters from a squad that finished third in the regular-season. 2012 All-Conference First Team member Amy Pierce and Second Team honoree Hayley Nybo led the Bulldogs in runs, hits and doubles while Jordan Gronewold (2012 All-Conference First Team) is back on the mound after her 20 win season.
Missouri State is picked sixth in the coaches poll with 51 points. Of the eight starters returning, junior Ashley Brentz and senior Kirstin Cutter were chosen to the 2013 MVC Preseason All-Conference Team at second base and shortstop, respectively. Brentz led the Bears in batting average (.304), runs (24) and hits (45) and Cutter had the team high in stolen bases (13).
After only losing two starters, Bradley takes the seventh-place spot and 42 points with Madeline Lynch-Crumrine (2011 & 2012 All-Conference First Team) and Bailiegh Basham (2012 All-Tournament Team) on the field again. Basham ranked second for the Braves in doubles, home runs and RBIs.
The Shockers came in eighth-place with 23 points. The six starters and and two pitchers that are back on the field for Wichita State will be joined by seven newcomers. Junior Erin Carney will be one of the top players after a 2012 campaign that saw 28 runs, nine home runs and 26 RBI.
Evansville was voted a close ninth (22 points) with Indiana State rounding out the poll in tenth (18 points).
Evansville returns 2012 All-Conference Second-Team member, Kayla Fortner ,who led the Purple Aces in batting average, hits, doubles, RBIs and slugging percentage. Fortner will get help from fellow returners Victoria Dellorto (41 hits, 20 runs) and Niki Rahming (31 hits, 16 runs).
Indiana State will have a young team this year as they welcome back only six starters. With losing eight letter winners, the Sycamores are bringing in ten newcomers. Junior Shelby Wilson and sophomore Megan Stone led the team in batting average, hits and total bases in last year’s campaign.
Nine of the ten Missouri Valley Conference softball teams begin action the second weekend of February, with tournament play and non-conference games. League competition will heat up starting Saturday, March 16.