MELBOURNE, Fla.– The 2017 Sunshine State Conference Preseason Softball Coaches poll has been announced and Saint Leo University is the unanimous pick to repeat as league champions. The Lions received 64 total points and all eight possible first place votes. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams, and provisional members Palm Beach Atlantic and Embry-Riddle are not yet eligible.
Rollins comes in second in the poll, with Florida Tech just two points behind. The Tars and the Panthers both finished 2016 tied for the second best record in the league though Rollins won the regular season series, taking two of three games from FIT last season.
Barry comes in fourth place in the poll, while Tampa and Eckerd tied for fifth place. Barry, Tampa, and Eckerd finished fourth, fifth, and sixth in conference play last season, respectively. Florida Southern, Lynn, and Nova Southeastern round out the poll at seven, eight, and nine.
Saint Leo (39-8, 21-3) finished 2016 ranked No. 16 in the NFCA poll after winning the program's second SSC title. The Lions received a bid to the 2016 NCAA Division II South Region Tournament in Florence, Alabama where they went 1-2 as the fourth seed, and were eliminated by eventual national champion North Alabama.
Rollins (40-16-1, 17-7) ended 2016 ranked No. 22 in the final NCFA Poll. The Tars also received a bid to the NCAA Division II South Regional and went to Valdosta, Georgia as the sixth seed in the region. The Tars defeated Valdosta State and West Florida twice before moving on to the South Super Regional where they too were eliminated by North Alabama.
Florida Southern begins the season on Friday, February 3 at the Eckerd College Spring Invitational where two of its three games will be against other SSC teams. The Moccasins open with Chadron State from Nebraska on February 3 at 7:30 p.m. before facing Eckerd and Saint Leo on Saturday at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. respectively.
The Moccasins bring back 12 letter winners from last year's team, including seven players who made at least 24 starts. Among them are senior third baseman Erica Morrissey, the team's leading hitter; sophomore designated player Jessica Trana, a First Team All-SSC selection in 2016 who tied Morrissey for the team lead in RBI; and seniors Brandi Jones and Hannah Loyer who were the Mocs' top two pitchers last season. Senior second baseman Leah Pemberton, an All-SSC selection in 2015, is also back after redshirting last year.
In addition to the returning players, Florida Southern has eight newcomers, which includes two junior college transfers, two 4-year transfers and four freshmen. Two of them (Shannon Bell and Desirae Klumpp) were All-Suncoast Conference selections at Hillsborough Community College, and two others (Kristen Beacham and Alex Mace) won state championships as high school seniors.
Florida Southern will again be led by Chris Bellotto, who begins her 36th season as the Moccasins' head coach with a career record of 1,266-509-1. She ranks third all-time on the all-time NCAA Division II career wins list and is ninth among active coaches at any NCAA level. Bellotto has guided the Moccasins to 24 Sunshine State Conference titles, not only the most in the SSC, but the most for any Division II program in any conference. The Moccasins' eight regional championships are tied for the third most in Division II history, with Florida Southern reaching the national championship game three times under Bellotto. The Mocs won the D-II national title in 1993, and were runner-up in 1987 and 2004.
2017 SSC SOFTBALL PRESEASON COACHES POLL
Saint Leo (8)