Westminster College was picked first in the 2017 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Preseason Coaches Poll, marking the first time in eight years a team other than Fontbonne University is the favorites coming into the season.
Westminster received 72 total points in the poll including six first-place votes. The Blue Jays finished 22-17 overall last season, advancing to the SLIAC Tournament Championship game. Head Coach Joe Henderson brings back eight players and five starters from that squad while welcoming in a class of 15 freshmen. The Blue Jays' Erica Burney, who burst on to the scene in her first year with the program in 2016, returns and will be the big bat in the lineup. Burney, an infielder, hit .540 with 11 home runs and 54 runs batted in last season while earning All-American honors and being named the SLIAC Player of the Year. Junior outfielder Amber Tepen also returns after hitting .458 with six home runs and 42 RBI as does senior infielders Anne Baker (.342 batting average) and Brittany Hodge. In the circle the Blue Jays will rely on senior Alyson Hahn (11 wins and 100 strikeouts) to anchor a staff that brings in five new pitchers.
Defending SLIAC Tournament Champion Greenville College was picked second with 68 points and one first-place vote. The Panthers finished 23-22-1 overall last season and will bring back 12 players. First year head coach Buddy Foster has five starters back from last year's squad including one of the league's top hitters in senior third baseman Tiffany Samsoe. Samsoe, a three time All-Conference performer, hit .446 with seven home runs and 44 RBI last season including 21 doubles. Offensively the Panthers will have to replace their leadoff hitter Bryn McKie. Heading up the pitching staff will be senior Brianna Anderson (15 wins and 116 strikeouts), who will look to carry her SLIAC Tournament MVP performance into this season. The Panthers will benefit from the return of pitcher/infielder Becca Oldham, who sat out last season, and bring in a trio of juniors that should make an impact in Josie Koontz, Kate Joliff, and Jordee Wieland.
After winning their sixth consecutive SLIAC regular season title Fontbonne University saw an off-season of changes. The Griffins said goodbye to Head Coach Bill Rosner and saw standouts Emily Smith and Madison Leonard graduate while saying hello again to former player Danni Glixman as their new head coach. The Griffins totaled 66 points in the poll and picked up two first-place votes and are picked third overall. The Griffins return seven starters from last year including a pair of All-Region performers in Sam Brown and Emeila Modglin. Brown, a junior outfielder, hit .423 with five home runs and 23 RBI last season while Modglin, a sophomore infielder, hit .416 with 35 RBI and led the team with 47 hits. The Griffins biggest change will be in the circle where workhorse Madison Leonard departs. They will turn to Maddy Strickland and Diamond Thomas as well as newcomer Brianna Durant to fill the innings.
Last year saw Eureka College go from being ranked eighth in the preseason poll to making their first conference tournament since 2013 after going 29-9 overall. This year the Red Devils will not be able to surprise opponents and were chosen fourth with 62 points and one first-place vote. Leading the charge last year was freshman phenom Kerrigan Dura. Dura, an infielder, is back again this year after hitting .556 with three home runs and a NCAA Division III high 66 runs batted in with a .917 slugging percentage. Dura is not the only big bat in the lineup for Eureka that returns as senior catcher Lexi Litwiller (.435 batting average with 53 RBI) will offer protection. Also returning are Bridget Bankes (.309 batting average) and Krysten Wallace (.322 batting average). Junior Kali George provides the team experience at both the plate and in the circle. Last year George hit .347 with 24 RBI while recording 15 wins and a 2.86 earned-run average as a pitcher. Eureka head coach Debi Neff will count on a trio of freshmen in Courtney Kurtz, Morgan Osborn, and Erin Smith to contribute to the team this spring.
Webster University received 51 points to finish fifth in the poll. The Gorloks went 17-20 overall last season and head coach Chris Easton returns 12 players and four starters. Leading the way for the Gorloks this year will be a pair of All-Conference players; Sidney Coleman and Katelyn Sullens. Coleman, a senior outfielder, hit .366 with 25 runs batted in last season while Sullens, a senior outfielder, hit .439 and finished with a team high 50 hits and seven stolen bases. Junior infielder Tessa Johanning is also back after hitting .333 with 20 RBI. The pitching staff is led by senior Alexis Spriggs, who led the staff with 102 innings pitched last year and picked up seven wins with a 3.84 earned-run average. Among newcomers expected to see time on the field will be freshmen Abby Burroughs and Taylor White as well as junior Morgan Mansur.
Spalding University is picked sixth with 46 points. Head Coach Art Williams brings back five starters and eight players from last year's team, highlighted by Third Team All-Conference outfielder Kaylin Rucker. Rucker hit .269 with three home runs and 15 runs batted in last season. The Golden Eagles offense also returns sophomore Lindsey Hubbard (.280 average), sophomore Samantha Klein (.327 average and team high 30 RBI), and senior Brooke Lamon (.269 average). Although they lost four hitters from last year that is not the case in the circle as they return all three players from last year's pitching staff. Junior Robyn Schoen led the team with 106 innings pitched last season while sophomore Amber Kilburn threw 96 innings pitched. Among players that should see time are Brianna Eatmon, Arianna Garris, and Olivia Leet.
Placing seventh on the poll was Iowa Wesleyan University with 31 points. The Tigers are coached by Mike Hampton and return seven starters from last year's team. The Tigers will have to overcome the unexpected departures of Michaela Brewer and Kennedy Vinchattle and will count on seniors Kassie Vazquez (team high 11 stolen bases) and Caitlin O'Neill (.277 average with nine doubles) to lead the team. Sophomore second baseman Sydnee Stalker is back after a solid first year in which she hit .313 with two home runs and 14 runs batted in. Junior Sheridan Gealow is also back after playing in 26 games last season and leading the team with 10 walks. Junior Samantha McIlwain will once again be the go to pitcher on the staff after logging 116 innings last season and finishing with 11 wins and 152 strikeouts. Top newcomers includ Shelby Allender, Julie Dodd, and Ashley Machholz.
MacMurray College is expected to finish eighth with 24 points. Second year head coach Samantha Valentine will have a young team, with no seniors on the roster, and brings back five starters. That youth is led by sophomore Calynn LaGesse, who hit .329 with a team high 14 runs scored last year. Also back is junior Amanda Peterson (.286 average) and sophomore Kerrigan Horn (.283 average). The Highlanders will have to replace pitcher Marissa Harris, who set a program record for strikeouts last year, and will turn to sophomore Haley Stewart to do so. Stewart threw in 37 innings last year, making six starts, and picked up two wins. The Highlanders bring in freshman infielder Brooke Allen and junior pitcher/infielder Dakotah Quertermous as impact players.
Coming in ninth was Principia College with 18 total points. The Panthers return eight players including five starters from last year's team. Head Coach Ken Leavoy returns his top three hitters from last season led by senior AC McMullen, .337 average with 12 runs batted in. Also back is senior Samantha Bronkar (.319 average) and sophomore Leah Schaefer (.305 average with eight runs batted in). Schaefer was also the teams leader in innings pitched last year with 84, while compiling 39 strikeouts. Coach Leavoy is excited about the additions of Lauren Daugherty, Hannah Hathaway, and Emily Hewitt; three players with pop.
Rounding out the poll was Blackburn with 12 points. Beavers head coach Kerry Crum is in a rebuilding process and returns just four players but brings in 10 freshmen. Their top returning hitter is junior Hannah Goett. Goett hit .337 with nine doubles and 13 runs batted in last season. Also back are Allison Howard and Elisabeth Johnston. Sophomore pitcher Jensen Ballinger made nine starts as a freshman and logged 45 innings with three complete games while recording 12 strikeouts. Among the freshmen counted on to help rebuild the program are Emma Trybom, Kaitlyn Wade, and Lexie Yockey.