Fontbonne University is once again atop the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Softball Preseason poll. This marks the seventh consecutive spring the Griffins are the conference favorites. Fontbonne received 72 total points in the poll, including eight first place votes. Greenville College was picked second and Westminster College was chosen third.
Fontbonne, and head coach Bill Rosner, will be looking to defend their SLIAC title once again this spring after going 30-11 overall and finishing undefeated in conference play last year at 18-0. The Griffins graduated their top three hitters in Cassi and Dani Glixman as well as center fielder Shannon Fitzpatrick but return six other starters. Leading the way of returnees is senior Madison Leonard in the circle. Leonard, the 2015 SLIAC Pitcher of the Year, was named First Team All-Conference and Third Team All-American last year after going 24-6 with a 1.33 earned-run average and 226 strikeouts in 174 innings pitched. The Griffins will look to seniors Lindsay Schaefer and Emily Smith to pick up the missing offense from the Glixman twins and Fitzpatrick. Schaefer, a utility player, earned First Team All-Conference honors after hitting .352 with 20 runs batted in while Smith, a catcher, hit .342 with 31 runs batted in and 14 doubles. Samantha Brown, a sophomore outfielder, will be counted on after being named the 2015 SLIAC Newcomer of the Year; hitting .345 with three home runs and 24 runs batted in. The Griffins bring in another strong freshman class, highlighted by Maddie Cooksey, Emelia Modglin, and Melanie Russo.
Greenville was picked second in the preseason poll, receiving 64 total points and the other first place vote from the coaches. The Panthers were 24-17 last season, going 13-5 in conference play and advancing to the SLIAC Tournament championship game. Head Coach Tracy Cromer returns 12 players including seven starters from last year's squad, highlighted by senior outfielder Bryn McKie. McKie racked up the honors last year, earning First Team All-Conference and All-Region honors as well as being named the NCCAA Region Player of the Year and All-American. McKie led the conference in batting average, with a .483 mark, and finished with a .658 slugging percentage and a conference best 28 stolen bases. Junior infielder Tiffany Samsoe also returns after narrowly missing the conference triple crown; finishing second in batting average (.477), first in home runs (14), and first in runs batted in (57) while earning All-Conference honors. Senior Andrea Martin will also be counted on to once again provide offensive attack, hitting .338 and being named Second Team All-Conference last season. Rebecca Oldham continues the strong and experienced lineup, hitting .374 with five home runs last year. Oldham also notched the second most innings pitched last season, making 10 starts. The Panthers will be searching for someone to join Oldham in the circle this season after graduating pitchers Jessica Laubecher and Hannah Berger. The Panthers welcome in Cassandra Lueking, Cayla Speaks, and Laney Thacker.
Westminster was chosen third in the poll with 51 total points. The Blue Jays went 13-20 last year and 10-8 in conference play. Head Coach Joe Henderson returns 15 players and eight starters including a pair of First Team All-Conference performers in Alyson Hahn and Amber Tepen. Hahn, a junior pitcher, was 11-9 in the circle with a 2.31 earned-run average and 121 strikeouts. Tepen, a sophomore outfielder, hit .385 with with 18 runs batted in and 10 doubles last year as a freshman. The Blue Jays also have a nucleus of junior infielders they will turn to: Ann Baker, Brittany Hodge, and Alyssa Johnson. Baker hit .253 with one home run and 12 runs batted in while Hodge hit .233 and played a solid defensive shortstop. Johnson meanwhile hit .280 and led the Blue Jays with 19 runs batted in last season. The Blue Jays will be without Abby Bartley and Allison Biggs after the two players suffered injuries. Westminster brings in several players including Caty Barrett, Erika Burney, and Leah Holhaus that will push for playing time.
Spalding University was picked fourth in the preseason poll after receiving 50 total points. The Golden Eagles went 15-22 overall last season and 11-7 in conference play, advancing to their third consecutive SLIAC Tournament. Spalding, coached by Art Williams, brings back six starters including a trio of All-Conference players. Amanda Gilliland, a senior catcher, earned First Team honors last year after hitting .385 with two home runs and 20 runs batted in. Alyssa McAfee, a senior outfielder, hit .274 with 16 home runs and earned Second Team honors while Becca Mouse, a senior infielder, hit .306 with a team high 28 runs batted in and picked up Third Team honors. Kaylin Rucker is also back after hitting .311 and will look to continue her strong tournament performance from last spring into this season. The Golden Eagles will need players to step up on the pitching staff after losing Kelci Flener to graduation. Among the newcomers for the team are Lindsey Hubbard and Amber Kilburn.
MacMurray College was picked fifth in the poll, with 48 total points. The Highlanders finished 18-17 overall and 12-8 in the SLIAC, making their first Tournament appearance since 1999. They will be led by new head coach Samantha Valentine, who brings in three starters from last year's team. Heading up the list of returners is senior shortstop Melinda Wilson. Wikson earned First Team All-Conference honors last year after hitting .388 with one home run and 18 runs batted in. Catcher Taylor Hewitt is also back to provide offense, hitting .320 with one home run and 16 runs batted in last year. In the cirlce the Highlanders will once again rely on senior Marissa Harris. Harris made 21 starts last year, going 11-10 with a 3.25 earned-run average and setting a school record with 142 strikeouts. Pitcher Jaimey Watrous figures on increasing her workload as well after making eight starts last spring. A strong class of newcomers will see action in the field including Calynn LaGesse, Amanda Petersen, and Haley Stewart.
Webster University was chosen sixth in the preseason poll, receiving 40 total points. The Gorloks went 10-23 overall last season and 8-10 in conference play. Head Coach Chris Eaton returns four starters and 10 players from last year's team. The Gorlok offense will be led by senior catcher Kaylyn DeCock, who hit .425 with three home runs and 34 runs batted in. Junior outfielder Emily Kolisch will provide offensive punch after hitting .322 with 15 runs batted in and picking up First Team All-Conference honors. Erin McGinnis, a senior outfielder, should help set the table for the Gorloks after hitting .383 and finishing with 29 runs scored. Senior outfielder Alyssa Sapp also returns after hitting .381 and leading the team with eight stolen bases, earning Third Team All-Conference honors. Tessa Johanning also picked up Third Team honors after hitting .276 with 26 runs batted in. Top newcomers include Chyanne Fulmer, Kate Sullens, and Carol An Weiler.
Iowa Wesleyan University finished seventh in the poll after receiving 27 total points. The Tigers, coached by Mike Hampton, went 14-18 overall and 6-12 in the SLIAC last season. They return four starters and have a good core of newcomers that will be counted on to make an impact. The Tigers offense took a hit with the gradution of Mikayla Dwyer and Samantha Sheperd but will count on juniors Caitlin O'Neill and Kassie Vazquez to pick up the slack. O'Neill, an infielder, hit .309 with 19 runs batted in last season while Vazquez, an outfielder, finished with a .271 batting average with 16 runs batted in and a team best nine stolen bases. The Tigers are set in the circle with the return of pitchers Samantha McIlwain and Stephanie Tillman. The duo combined to start every game for the Tigers last spring with McIlwain picking up nine wins and striking out 97 batters and Tillman finishing with five wins and leading the team in earned-run average. Among the top newcomers for the Tigers are Summer Johnson, Hannah Mixer, and Kennedy Vinchattle.
Finishing eighth in the preseason poll was Eureka College with 23 total points. The Red Devils are coached by Debi Neff and bring back four starters from last year's team that went 15-21 overall and 7-11 in the SLIAC. Heading up the Red Devil offense will be a trio of All-Conference players: Kali George, Savanna Tapper, and Krysten Wallace. George, a sophomore utility player, earned Second Team All-Conference honors after hitting .364 with a team high 28 runs batted in. Tapper, a senior second baseman has earned All-Conference honors in each of her first three seasons, hit .310 and led the team in runs scored with 34 while Wallace, a sophomore outfielder, hit .345 last year and earned Third Team honors. Transfers Bridgette Bankes and Lexi Litwiller, both utility players, are versatile and should see time in the lineup.
Blackburn College was chosen to finish ninth in the SLIAC, receiving 16 total points. The Beavers finished last year with a 5-31 record, going 3-15 in conference play. The Beavers will be led by catcher Jaclyn Elmore. Elmore hit .365 with eight home runs and 28 runs batted in last season, earning Second Team All-Conference honors. Blackburn will need to replace Mary Chamberlin, who graduated, and was second on the team in batting average while making 22 starts in the circle.
Princicpia College was picked tenth in the poll with 14 total points. The Panthers, coached by Ken Leavoy, went 5-28 overall and 2-16 in the SLIAC last season. The Panthers will lean on the experience of several returners on offense while welcoming two new pitchers. Among the five returning starters are Samantha Bronkar, Tanya Marquardt, and Kelsey Whitney. Bronkar, a junior, hit .256 while Marquardt hit .203 as a freshman. Whitney, a senior catcher, hit .224 and will not only provide experience at bat but behind the plate, helping the team's two new pitchers adjust. Leah Schaefer and Noelle Shoemake are the two new pitchers that will rely on Whitney to ease them into their season.