ST. LOUIS - UNI has been picked as this year’s preseason favorite in Missouri Valley Conference softball as voted unanimously by the league’s coaches, earning 100 points. Illinois State took second-place and 83 points with Drake an extremely close third (82 points).
The Panthers will have a lot of experience back as all four of their 2013 MVC All-Tournament team members (Lock, Brown, N. Fisher, J. Fisher) and three of the four UNI 2013 All-Conference winners return to the field. Last year’s Tournament MVP and this year’s MVC Preseason All-Conference Team member, Jamie Fisher, will be on the mound again for the Panthers trying to make her senior season a success. UNI will be going for their third NCAA appearance and second-consecutive.
For Illinois State, three 2014 MVC Preseason All-Conference Team members in first baseman Laura Canopy, outfielder Nichelle Harrison and pitcher Taylor Baxter will lead the charge. Canopy was a First-Team All-Conference member a year ago with teammates Harrison and Baxter making the Second Team. The Redbirds return five of their nine starters, including their four infielders (Canopy, Hoffman, Drish and Bradley).
The Bulldogs welcome back seven starters including their 2013 RBI leaders, Nicole Randel (Senior) and Hayley Nybo (Junior) and their runs scored and hits leader, Amy Pierce (Senior). Once again on the mound for Drake is Rebekah Schmidt and Jordan Gronewold. Schmidt had a 2.22 ERA in 2013 which was third in the MVC while Gronewold earned 17 wins, also good for third in the Valley.
Southern Illinois, the coaches’ fourth-place pick (63 points), is represented on the 2014 MVC Preseason All-Conference Team by Jayna Spivey and Meredith Wilson. Spivey brings an offensive spark to the Salukis as she finished tied for first in RBIs, second in home runs and fourth in two-out RBIs in the Conference. Wilson is a two-time All-MVC Second Team member.
Missouri State was voted as fifth-place with 51 points as they bring back six starters and three pitchers. After a great freshman season, the coaches’ put Mary Stephens on the 2014 Preseason team. Senior Ashley Brentz will be seen at second base after slugging 39 hits (third-best for the Bears) and advancing 23 runners.
Loyola is picked sixth with 44 points. The Ramblers return 16 letterwinners (eight starters) from a squad that won 28 games last season and shared the Horizon League regular-season title. Seniors Lauren Moore (55 hits, 13 home runs) and Brittany Gardner (2.18 ERA, 174 strikeouts) will lead Loyola in their first MVC season.
Bradley takes the seventh-place spot and 43 points. The Braves have three members on the 2014 MVC Preseason All-Conference Team in seniors Bailiegh Basham, Madeline Lynch-Crumrine and Bri Joseph. Lynch-Crumrine and Basham were both voted on to the MVC All-Conference Second Team a year ago.
Wichita State claimed 33 points and eight-place. The two returning pitchers and six starters (11 letterwinners total) will welcome ten newcomers for the Shockers. Senior Ali Vandever will lead the way after garnering the second-most hits and runs scored as well as the third-most RBIs last season.
Evansville was voted a close ninth with 30 points. The Purple Aces bring back three pitchers and three position starters including Kayla Fortner, 2014 Preseason All-Conference team member. Fortner finished the 2013 season starting every game and 39 hits.
Indiana State was picked tenth in the poll with 21 points. The Sycamores are represented on the Preseason All-MVC Team by seniors Shelby Wilson and Morgan Allee. Wilson led the team in hits, home runs and RBIs while Allee stole the most bases in the Conference with 36 (one away from the Conference all-time record).
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 15.