Everything is Looking up for the SEC in softball in 2011. The league is coming off a very exciting 2010 season that saw three league teams make the WCWS. Although, the league has yet to bring home the top prize, they are banging on the door and their presence will be felt again in 2011. Although NCAA Softball has several different ranking systems, we use the ESPN.com Top 25 poll throughout the season. All rankings applied below, including preseason, are ESPN.com Top 25 poll rankings. Below, you will find a team by team breakdown of the conference from top to bottom. What teams and players to watch out for in 2011. I look forward to keeping you informed of all the latest SEC softball news this year. So, with no further delay... Batter up!!
ALABAMA - First, we must welcome back the preseason #3 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. What did this team not do in 2010 except make it to the WCWS. They are the defending regular season SEC champions and SEC tournament champions. To top that off they were the overall No. 1 seed in last years NCAA tournament. Sadly, they lost a heartbreaker at home in the super- regionals to Hawaii. Still, they finished one of the most successful seasons in Alabama history 52-11. Head coach Pat Murphy won't have to much to fret about this season either. The Tide welcome back a very helpful dose returning players and have added one of the nations most prized recruits in freshman pitcher Jackie Traina. She will be hard pressed to find playing time among all the veterans the Tide have back. Of those veterans is three preseason All SEC selections, Sophmore sensation Kayla Braud, who will move from 2nd base to left field this season and Seniors Whitney Larsen and Kelsie Dunne. Dunne, the SEC pitcher of the year last season and also last seasons SEC tournament MVP, is coming back to lead the Tide after going an astounding 30-6 last season. The Tide also have sophmore Lauren Sewell, who they expect to eat up some innings in the #2 pitcher role and ease some of the stress on Dunne. Sophmore Braud will be leading the offensive side of the team after batting .505 last season and stealing 45 bases. Look for the Tide to be hungry this season after falling just short of the WCWS and to be among the leaders in the race for the SEC championship again.
GEORGIA - Preseason #4 ranked Georgia is coming off of its second-consecutive NCAA Women's College World Series appearance in 2010, and the Bulldogs are the only team to reach the WCWS Final Four in both 2009 and 2010. In 2011, Georgia returns 17 players including every starter from a year ago, and 10 of those played on both of Georgia's WCWS teams. Last year, Georgia posted a 50-13 overall record. In the process of earning the team's first 50-win season since 2006, the Bulldogs established new single-season school records for home runs, runs, doubles, RBI's, total bases, walks, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
The Bulldogs are a veteran led team that will be among the top of the SEC all season. University of Georgia seniors, Infielder Alisa Goler and Outfielder Taylor Schlopy have been named to the Top 50 Watch List for the 2011 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. This marks the second-consecutive year in which both Goler and Schlopy have been named to the Top 50 Watch List for the award. Taylor Schlopy started 62 games last season batting a team-best .418 while setting single-season school records with 79 runs scored and an on-base percentage of .566 and she also led the team with 30 stolen bases. Alisa Goler also made 62 starts batting .377 with 16 home runs, 57 RBI, 43 runs and 10 stolen bases. She also set a single-season school record with 55 walks. These two veterans will be the leaders and looking to carry the Bulldogs th their third conescutive WCWS.
Florida - The 2010 Florida Gators softball team finished the season 49-10 with a SEC record of 20-4 and an appearance in the WCWS, falling to Georgia. The 2010 team set or tied 28 school softball records. Under the leadership of head coach Tim Walton, the Gators return this season ranked #5 in the preseason and show lots of promise with 15 returning players and five highly rated recruits.
The goal for the 2011 team is to get more athletic, with the help of their new recruits, and make a return trip to the WCWS. Leading the charge for the Gators is all everything senior pitcher Stephanie Brombacher who holds the Florida record for highest win percentage in a season and a career, going 77-8 (.906) in three seasons. She is also the only pitcher in school history to start her career with more than 10 wins without suffering a loss. Leading the Gators with the bat will be senior 2nd baseman Aja Paculba. She has tied the Florida record for the longest hit streak in program history (16) in 2010 and she currently holds Florida records for career runs scored (188), on-base percentage (.459) and ranks second in batting clip (.341). The Gators will be right back in the thick of the SEC race this season and will be pushing for a return trip to the WCWS.
Tennessee - The preseason #7 ranked Tennessee Lady Vol softball team made it all the way to the WCWS last season, eventually falling to Arizona. Things look sunny again for the Lady Vols as they have a pair of young leaders returning in sophomore outfielder Raven Chavanne and sophomore pitcher Ivy Renfroe. During the 2010 season, the duo helped guide the Big Orange to a 49-15 overall record and to the program's fourth top-three finish at the Women's College World Series over the last six seasons. Ivy Renfroe registered a sterling 31-6 mark with a 2.41 ERA and 235 strikeouts in 232.1 innings of work to go along with 15 complete games and six solo shutouts during her freshman season. Raven Chavanne hit a team-leading .455 overall with a squad-best 95 hits, 64 runs scored, five doubles, five triples, three home runs and 26 RBIs while swiping a UT-best 37 stolen bases and posting a .511 on-base percentage in her initial campaign at Rocky Top. Raven was also among the NCAA Division I batting average leaders all season long, eventually finishing at No. 7 in the country. Tennessee will be in the mix to make another run at the WCWS this season.
LSU - The #16 preseason ranked LSU Tigers have a ace in the hole for the 2011 season. That Ace is no other than Rachele Fico, the reigning SEC Co-Freshman of the Year and NFCA All-South Region First-Team pick, who is looking to build on her 20-7 campaign where she secured 10 victories over RPI Top 50 opponents. She also ranked among the SEC's elite in ERA (1.15), runs allowed (31), opponent batting average (.184) and strikeouts (161). The 1.15 ERA allowed Fico to become the first freshmen to win the SEC ERA title in league history.
The Tigers are coming off a 45-16 overall 2010 season that saw them finish 20-9 and second in the SEC West to Alabama. The Tigers will be excited to have back 2010 Team Captain Jessica Mouse for this season. Of her 61 starts last season, 60 came at third base where she racked up a team-best 120 assists along with 74 putouts for a .990 fielding clip. She reached base in 49 of 59 games where she earned an at-bat. Her 120 assists ranked second, in the SEC en route to All-SEC Defensive-Team accolades. LSU will again push for the SEC West division title and maybe another shot at the Tide who knocked the Tigers out in the SEC Tournament championship game last season.
Kentucky - The Kentucky Wildcats are coming off back to back NCAA tournament appearances, but have yet to break through in the top of the SEC standings. Rachel Lawson led the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats to their most successful softball season in school history. The team finished 32-27 with a 13-15 clip in the SEC. They received their first national ranking 2010 and made their second consecutive appearance at the NCAA. The Wildcats will see 14 players return in 2011 with seven new recruits and eight highly touted freshmen. The key to success for the Wildcats this year will be a dominating pitching staff. Since the arrival of junior team captain Rachel Riley and fellow junior Chanda Bell, the Wildcats have become one of just seven teams in the Southeastern Conference to appear in consecutive NCAA Tournaments and record over 30 victories in back-to-back years. Riley, a Kentucky native, also contributes offensively as she has recorded a pair of home runs and 16 RBI. As a freshman, she hit the game-winning home run and won on the mound against Eastern Kentucky.
Additionally, she earned the first-ever post-season win with an upset of seventh-ranked Georgia as a freshman in the SEC Tournament. Bell is a right-hander who relies on blazing power for strikeouts. The Indianapolis native has recorded 504 strikeouts in two seasons and sits just 46 fanned batters from the career record at UK. Her 288 strikeouts as a sophomore topped her own single-season record set a year earlier. Additionally, she ranks second all-time in UK allure with 37 victories and a 2.56 career ERA. She is already tops in the career records with a .205 opponent batting average. With arguably the two best pitchers in school history already on staff, Coach Lawson added to her faction with two of the top pitching prospects in the nation in freshmen Lauren Cumbess and Ellen Weaver to form an undeniable talent-laden pitching staff to help guide UK to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The corners of the infield have experience with junior third baseman Brittany Cervantes and senior first baseman Samantha DeMartine providing additional experience for the Big Blue. As a junior, DeMartine totaled a .252 batting average and a career-best eight extra base hits. She also delivered a career-best .986 fielding clip with 329 putouts.
Auburn - The Auburn Tigers enter the 2011 season with seven position starters and three pitchers returning from last season's squad that finished 31-26 overall, 11-17 in the SEC, and advanced to NCAA Regional play for the seventh time in program history. Kyndall White, an Alabama native, is one of four seniors on the Auburn roster. As a junior in 2010 White earned Second Team All-SEC honors after hitting .356 with 14 home runs and 34 RBI. White enters this season seventh in Auburn history with 22 career home runs. White's 14 homers last season rank as the second-most in a single-season in Auburn history. Junior Elizabeth Eisterhold hit 11 home runs in 2010 to give her 18 for her career, tying her for 10th in the Auburn record book. Junior SS Lauren Guzman owns the Tigers' longest streak of consecutive starts at 116. The Miami, Fla., native has started every game the past two seasons. Fellow junior Amber Harrison owns the second longest game started streak with 61. Harrison started every game in 2010 and the last four games of the 2009 season. The Tigers have a lot of returning players and hope to move up the pecking order this season in the SEC West and once again return to the NCAA tournament.
Miss State - MSU returns 14 letter winners from last year's team, including eight starters and four pitchers. The Bulldogs finished the 2010 season, 26-29 Overall, 7-20 SEC. Junior Ka'ili Smith enters her third season on campus looking to build on a career sophomore season in 2010. The Kapolei, Hawaii, native hit .329 in 2010, belting 10 home runs and adding 50 RBI. Seniors Brittany Bell, Ali Bainbridge and Courtney Nesbit are seeking strong finishes to their MSU careers. Bell hit .295 last season and added four home runs and 27 RBI. The Brandon, Fla., native also finished second on the team with 13 stolen bases. Bell has also been hit by a pitch 29 times in her career, putting her just four shy of the school record held by Keri McCallum. Bainbridge has been a fixture in the lineup through her first three seasons, having started all 174 games of her career. The Vestavia Hills, Ala., product hit .244 in 2010 and paced the team with 12 doubles while driving in 26 runs.
Nesbit enjoyed the best season of her career in 2010, as the Acworth, Ga., native hit.248 and added three home runs and 18 RBI. Juniors Misty Flesher and Lindsey Dunlap pace a Bulldog pitching staff under the guidance of ISC Hall of Fame pitcher, and first-year assistant coach Alan Colglazier. Flesher paced the Dawgs with 12 victories last season, putting her in seventh on the career wins chart with 32. Dunlap sits in 10th with 22 career wins. Sophomores Kylie Vry and Stephanie Becker have both made tremendous strides in the circle after seeing immediate action as freshman a year ago. The Bulldogs are looking to improve this season with their deep pitching staff and defense.
Arkansas - Arkansas finished the 2010 season with an overall record of 28-29 after falling in the first round of the SEC Tournament against Alabama. The Razorbacks finished the regular season with a 10-15 mark in SEC play including a pair of victories over then No. 9 ranked Georgia. Sophmore pitcher Hope McLemore was the team's No. 1 starter in the circle and came away with a 14-13 record holding a team best 3.01 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 153.2 innings. She made 35 appearances, including 25 starts. McLemore registered a season high 12 strikeouts against Louisiana Tech at Bogle Park on March 13.
Senior pitcher Layne McGuirt stepped into the Razorbacks' No. 2 spot in the rotation during the 2010 season. She finished the season with an 8-10 record and a 3.56 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 124.0 innings pitched, the most of her career. McGuirt started 21 games, including seven complete games. Her 4.06 ERA against conference opponents was best on the Arkansas staff. She and fellow pitcher Hope McLemore pitched 12 scoreless innings against Ole Miss as the Razorbacks swept a doubleheader against the Rebels. McGuirt hurled a season-high seven innings on five occasions including against Tennessee. She finished the season issuing just 34 walks. The Razorbacks have a nice mix of youth and veterans and will look to improve behind their starting pitching this season.
Ole Miss- The Rebels finished the 2010 season with a 29-27 overall record and were 8-19 in SEC play. The Rebels return Junior infielder Corrine Doornberg, a Langley, British Columbia, Canada native. Corrine was a member of the 2007 Canadian Junior Women's National team. She led the squad with 180 at-bats and 16 stolen bases last season. Corrine also finished second on the team with a .356 batting average and 38 runs scored. She ranked second on the team with 20 multi-hit games also. Doornberg posted a team-high seven game hitting streak during last season. She tied the school record for runs scored in a game with four versus Western Michigan. As for the pitching side, the Rebels return Senior Brittany Barnhill, a 2007 EA Sports All-American and 2007 State of Texas Gatorade High School Player of the Year. Barnhill led the team with a 3.32 ERA and posted 10 wins.
Barnhill also led the squad with 146 strikeouts which is tied for the fifth most in school history and ranked eighth in the SEC last season. She was good with the bat also as she finished third on the team with five home runs and 33 RBI. Brittany led the team with 10 doubles which is tied for the ninth-highest season total in school history. Brittany threw the second no-hitter in Ole Miss school history and the second of her career against Alcorn State last season. The Rebels look to be more competitive against the league this season and make it out of the lower half of the league.
S. Carolina - South Carolina finished the 2010 season 11-40 overall with an 1-27 SEC record. Among the returning players is senior April Borchardt, who played in 43 games last year while starting 39 of them. She began the season as an outfielder before she was shifted into the circle for the last two-thirds of the year. She batted .224 on the season, fourth on the team, while leading the team with five stolen bases. April had five two-hit games on the year and she picked up her first win in the second game against Longwood, throwing four shutout innings out of the pen. April also garnered the only win in SEC play for the Gamecocks, throwing her first complete game of the season against Mississippi State. She allowed just four runs, two earned, on four hits and four walks in the triumph. On the offensive side, Junior Evan Childs returns after playing in 50 of 51 games last season, drawing 47 starts. She was very versatile for the Gamecocks last season, of her 47 starts, 26 came at shortstop, 18 at the keystone and two in right field. Childs ranked second on the team in slugging percentage and third in on-base percentage. Her nine doubles also stood second on the squad.
With 17 RBI, she finished third on the team. She had a .630 slugging percentage against lefties. Evan hit .310 with runners in scoring position and began the season with the second-longest hitting streak on the team at six games. She had two three-hit games in that stretch. Against Longwood, she tied a program-record with three doubles. Evan also went 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored in the team's lone SEC win over Mississippi State. The program is still rebuilding, but have a nice young core they look to improve a lot on their poor SEC record this season.
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