SPARTANBURG, S.C. – UNCG has been tabbed the favorite to claim the 2018 Southern Conference softball crown, as voted on by all seven of the league’s coaches. Mercer outfielder Meghan Rud and Samford outfielder Shelby Maze nabbed preseason co-player of the year honors, while Paladin senior Lindsey Bert was bestowed with preseason pitcher of the year distinction for the second time in three years.
Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams or players in the balloting. The first team included three pitchers and the second team included two designated players because of ties in the voting.
UNCG collected three first-place votes and 32 votes to take the top spot in the poll after claiming a share of the 2017 regular-season title, the first in program history. The Spartans, who went 11-6 in SoCon play last year, placed five on the preseason all-conference teams, including first-team selections Alicia Bazonski, Marisa Sholtes and Jasmine Palmer. All three were named to the 2017 all-conference teams last season.
Furman garnered three first-place votes and totaled 29 points to check in at second in the poll. The Paladins, who also claimed a share of the regular-season title last year with a 31-23 overall record, boast a league-high six preseason all-conference representatives, including Bert. Bert, the reigning SoCon pitcher of the year, was joined on the first team by shortstop Brittany Houston. Four Paladins – pitcher Emily Demonte, first baseman AnnaRose Borrelli, outfielder Lauren Duggar and designated player Taylor Vahle – were named preseason second-teamers.
ETSU, the 2017 SoCon tournament champion, earned 25 points to come in third in the poll. The Bucs will try to stay hot after a 2017 campaign that saw them post a record of 29-26 (10-7 SoCon) and claim their first-ever SoCon Championship. Outfielder Tiffany Laughren appears on the first team, while senior pitcher Madison Ogle was named to the second team.
Samford checks in right behind the Bucs at fourth with 23 points. The 2017 SoCon tournament runners-up, the Bulldogs are led by preseason co-player of the year Maze, who was a first-team all-SoCon selection last season. Utility player Madison Couch also garnered preseason honors for the Bulldogs. The fourth seed in last year’s tournament, Samford reeled off three straight wins following an opening-round loss to make it to the championship game.
Mercer, Chattanooga and Western Carolina round out the poll with 20, nine and nine points, respectively. Mercer received the remaining first-place vote and had three all-first team selections, including preseason co-player of the year Rud, and two second-team honorees. Chattanooga had four named to the preseason squad, two on the first team and two on the second, while Western Carolina had two earn preseason honors.
The 2018 softball season begins on Feb. 8 when Samford travels to Louisiana-Lafayette for a 6 p.m. eastern first pitch. The remaining league teams, excluding Western Carolina, will open up on Feb. 9. The Catamounts open Feb. 16.
Team (First-Place Votes) Points
1. UNCG (3) 32
2. Furman (3) 29
3. ETSU 25
4. Samford 23
5. Mercer (1) 20
6. Chattanooga 9
Western Carolina 9
Preseason Player of the Year (tie)
Meghan Rud, Mercer, Sr., OF
Shelby Maze, Samford, Sr., OF
Preseason Pitcher of the Year
Lindsey Bert, Furman, Sr.
Preseason First-Team All-SoCon
P Lindsey Bert, Furman, Sr.
P Megan Bilgri, Mercer, Sr.
P Alicia Bazonski, UNCG, Sr.
C Madison Armstrong, Western Carolina, Jr.
1B Marisa Sholtes, UNCG, Jr.
2B Jasmine Palmer, UNCG, Jr.
3B Quirisa Mauga, Mercer, Sr.
SS Brittany Houston, Furman, Sr.
OF Tiffany Laughren, ETSU, Jr.
OF Meghan Rud, Mercer, Sr.
OF Shelby Maze, Samford, Sr.
DP Emma Sturdivant, Chattanooga, Jr.
UT Halie Williamson, Chattanooga, Jr.
Preseason Second-Team All-SoCon
P Madison Ogle, ETSU, Sr.
P Emily Demonte, Furman, Jr.
C Megan Lane, Mercer, Jr.
1B AnnaRose Borrelli, Furman, Sr.
2B Ashley Conner, Chattanooga, Sr.
3B Gabi Cubbage, UNCG, Sr.
SS Rachael McClaskey, UNCG, Sr.
OF Lauren Duggar, Furman, Jr.
OF Aly Walker, Chattanooga, So.
OF Hunter Gibbons, Western Carolina, Jr.
DP Taylor Vahle, Furman, Jr.
DP Abby Walsh, Mercer, So.
UT Madison Couch, Samford, Jr.