FRISCO, Texas (News release) - Stephen F. Austin is the preseason favorite heading into the 2021 Southland Conference softball season, the league announced Friday morning.
The 2021 preseason softball poll is presented by Ready Nutrition and was voted upon by head coaches and sports information directors from around the conference. Voting for one’s own school is not permitted.
The Ladyjacks concluded preseason voting with 235 points and 17 first-place votes to claim the top spot on the preseason poll. SFA returns a league-best five preseason all-conference selections, headlined by first-team pitcher Kassidy Wilbur. Although the 2020 season was shortened, the Ladyjacks’ pitching staff accrued a league-best 1.61 earned-run average, limiting opponents to a .161 batting average. Shaylon Govan returns for SFA after leading the conference with six home runs and nine doubles through 24 games in last season. Alex Hedspeth and Govan also claimed preseason all-conference honors after leading the ‘Jacks at the plate last year with a .412 and .406 batting average, respectively.
McNeese checked in next at the No. 2 spot after receiving 217 points and four first-place votes. The Cowgirls claimed four positions among the preseason all-conference rosters with senior Cori McCrary and sophomore Kaylee Lopez securing first-team distinctions. McCrary flipped five double plays at the shortstop position and led the Cowgirls with nine stolen bases through 23 appearances. Lopez registered a .375 batting average, eight RBI and a .500 on-base percentage last season, helping McNeese to a 3-0 start in conference play.
Southeastern Louisiana claimed the third spot in preseason voting after racking up 183 points. The Lady Lions’ potent offense will be a factor for head coach Rick Fremin as he returns three preseason all-conference selection in first-teamers Ella Manzer and Madisen Blackford and second-team pitcher MC Comeaux. Blackford made starts in all 23 of the Lady Lions’ games last season, leading her squad with 19 RBI. Manzer racked up 32 bases over 23 appearances with three home runs and eight hits for extra bases.
Sam Houston holds the fourth position with one first-place vote and 172 points in the poll. Megan McDonald and Brooke Malia were named preseason selections for the Bearkats. Last season, McDonald led SHSU with a .398 batting average, 35 hits and 15 RBI. Malia accounted for 13 hits, 11 RBI and a pair of home runs on 23 starts and 25 appearances. The Kats took home the 2019 Southland Tournament Championship two years ago in Natchitoches.
Central Arkansas occupies the fifth position after receiving 162 points and one first-place vote. The Bears landed a trio of preseason first-team selections in Kaylyn Shepherd, Cylla Hill and Kayla Beaver and a second team honoree in Reagan Sperling. UCA returns an explosive squad that led the conference in hits (207), runs (162), RBI (141) and stolen bases (67) last season.
Northwestern State rounds out the top six after receiving 156 points and one first-place vote. The Lady Demons tied with SFA for a league-best five preseason selections, including first-teamers Cayla Jones, Elise Vincent and E.C. Delafield. Vincent accounted for 20 runs on 21 hits last season, while Delafield tied for third in the conference with 20 RBI. Jones led the Lady Demons with 26 assists, while turning three double plays to go along with a .972 fielding percentage last season.
Nicholls stands in seventh with 131 points, just ahead of Lamar (86) and Abilene Christian (82). Houston Baptist was voted 10th, followed by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi with 47 points and UIW with 32 points.
The 2021 season gets underway Thursday, Feb. 11, with McNeese, Southeastern Louisiana and Abilene Christian in action. Eight more schools begin their slate over the following two days.
All roads lead to 2021 Southland Conference Tournament, which will be hosted by Southeastern Louisiana at North Oak Park in Hammond, La. The tournament field will consist of eight teams and is scheduled for May 11-14.
Coaches and SIDs Poll
1.Stephen F. Austin
11.Texas A&M-Corpus Christi