CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Charleston Southern softball was picked fifth in the annual Big South Conference Preseason Coaches' poll, as announced by the conference office this afternoon.
Head Coach Shane Winkler's squad received 43 votes in the poll voted on by the head softball coaches around the Big South Conference. The Bucs were also the recipient of a first place vote as the CSU squad looks to build off the momentum from last season's Big South Conference Championships as it carries into this year's season opener in two weeks.
The Buccaneers team returns a majority of the power from their lineup last season as rising seniors and returning All-Conference players Marci Christian and Stephanie Sbardella return to the middle of the CSU batting order this year.
'We don't put much thought into where teams are voted in the preseason poll each year," Winkler commented on the results of the poll. "The only thing the poll means is that Opening Day is right around the corner and we couldn't be more excited to get going. The poll is based so much on what teams did the year before and we know that teams can look completely different from year to year and we are counting on that."
Christian earned First Team honors last season at the utility spot after seeing time at catcher, first base and both of the corner outfield positions for the Bucs. The Arvonia, Va., native led the Bucs with a .341 batting average and set the CSU single season records in slugging percentage (.665), home runs (15) and total bases (109). She also added 38 runs and 30 RBI to her totals in her first season in the CSU Blue and Gold.
Sbardella was the 2013 All-Big South Second Team third baseman, finishing second on the team with a .313 batting average and finished with eight home runs. She added a team-best .446 on-base percentage and held a season-high 18 game on-base streak during the year.
"One thing the 2014 Bucs have is a ton of depth," Winkler had to say about the team makeup for the year. "Making a lineup from game to game is going to be a difficult task, but that's a good problem to have. We are four deep in the pitching rotation and that is going to be a real strength for us this year. I believe this is the most talented team we have had since I have been here and I couldn't be more excited to get the season underway and begin competing with this group."
Among the key returners to the CSU lineup this season include junior pitcher Jennifer Giles, who is coming off of a standout performance of her own in the 2013 Big South Championships, while seniors Ari Tedesco, Morgan Dowdy, Jessica Brock, Lizzy Olmstead and Hayes Holdsworth return for the Bucs as well.
Coastal Carolina's softball team has been voted the preseason favorite with Longwood junior catcher Megan Baltzell earning Conference's Preseason Player of the Year, and Coastal Carolina junior Kiana Quolas Preseason Pitcher of the Year honors.
Coastal Carolina, the reigning Big South regular-season Champion, was picked to win the Conference in 2014 as the Chanticleers picked up four first-place votes and 74 total points. Campbell finished second in the preseason poll, as the Camels received 68 points and one first-place vote. In the No. 3 spot is defending Big South Tournament Champion Longwood with three first-place votes and 67 points. Winthrop was projected to finish fourth with 46 points, followed by Charleston Southern. CSU was chosen just ahead of Radford (41 points). Liberty was seventh with 30 points, while Gardner-Webb earned 21 points for the No. 8 spot. Presbyterian College rounded out the voting with 15 points.
Baltzell was a NFCA Second-Team All-American, First-Team All-Southeast Region, First-Team All-Big South and a Big South All-Tournament Team selection last season. She led the nation in home runs (30) and home runs per game (0.49), while also finishing in the top three in three additional hitting categories. Baltzell led the League in four offensive categories last season – RBI (78) and Big South single-season records for home runs (30), total bases (184) and slugging percentage (.984). She received seven first-place votes and 14 points, ahead of Liberty's Katie Zavodny and Winthrop's McKenzi Corn, who each finished with one first-place vote and three points.
Quolas was the unanimous selection for the 2013 Big South Pitcher of the Year award, and also received NFCA Second-Team All-Southeast Region and First-Team All-Big South honors a season ago. She led the Big South with a 1.94 ERA last season with 22 wins and an opposing batting average of .229. In 206.0 innings pitched, she struck out 151 batters while walking just 40. In League games, Quolas was 12-3 with a 1.46 ERA and 72 strikeouts, and was named Pitcher of the Week five times in 2013. She received six first-place votes and 13 points in the preseason voting, ahead of Campbell's Courtney Roberts, who finished second with six points and one first-place vote.
The 2014 Big South softball season begins Friday, Feb. 7 with Campbell, Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb, Liberty, Presbyterian College and Winthrop in action. Conference play begins Wednesday, March 12 as Charleston Southern travels to Winthrop. The Big South Softball Championship presented by Musco Sports Lighting is slated for May 8-11 on the campus of Coastal Carolina University, with the championship game to be televised on ESPNU.