DePaul Tops 2012 BIG EAST Softball Preseason Poll

 PROVIDENCE, R.I. - DePaul was tabbed the 2012 BIG EAST Softball preseason favorite by the league's coaches.  The 2012 poll marks the first time since the current league formation was set in 2006 that five teams have split the first-place votes. 
DePaul earned three first-place votes and 130 overall points in the coaches' poll.  Last season, the Blue Demons earned a 41-15 overall record and a 19-2 BIG EAST mark while finishing second in the regular-season standings.  DPU returns four All-BIG EAST selections, including the 2011 Rookie of the Year, pitcher/first baseman Kirsten Verdun.  In 2011, Verdun ranked third overall in wins (22) and second in conference victories (12) and recorded a season ERA of 2.33.  The Blue Demons also return All-BIG EAST selections outfielder Megan Coronado, second baseman Allie Braden and outfielder Samantha Dodd.
Syracuse, the 2010 and 2011 BIG EAST Champion, received four first-place votes and 128 points to rank in second place.  The Orange, who finished last season 45-13 (15-5), will return senior Jenna Caira, the 2011 Pitcher of the Year and BIG EAST Championship Most Outstanding Player.  Caira led the league in most pitching categories, including ERA (1.51), strikeouts (321), opposing batting average (.187), wins (35) and innings pitched (283.1).  Joining Caira in the hunt for a third-straight BIG EAST Championship are All-BIG EAST selections second baseman Stephanie Watts, first baseman/catcher Jasmine Watson and first baseman Kelly Saco.
Ranking third in the preseason poll is Notre Dame with three first-place votes and 121 points.  The Fighting Irish finished the 2011 season as the BIG EAST regular-season champion with a 46-11 overall record and a 19-1 mark in conference play.  Last season, ND led the league in batting average (.330), slugging percentage (.511), on base percentage (.397), runs scored (333), runs batted in (291) and total bases (742).  The 2011 BIG EAST Coaching Staff of the Year will have its work cut out for it after losing five All-BIG EAST selections, including 2011 Player of the Year Heather Johnson.  The Irish will look to pitcher Laura Winter, outfielder Alexa Maldonado, pitcher and Brittany O'Donnell, who were BIG EAST selections last season.    
Louisville recorded two first-place votes and 120 overall points to place fourth in the preseason poll.  The Cardinals finished the 2011 season with a 38-20 record and a 12-7 league record while making a run to the BIG EAST Championship final, finishing as runner-up for the second year in a row.  UofL will return five All-BIG EAST selections in first baseman Alicja Wolny, infielder Katie Keller, infielder Hannah Kiyohara, pitcher Caralisa Connell and outfielder Jennifer Esteban. 
USF had one first-place vote and 111 points to finish fifth in the preseason poll.  The Bulls finished fourth last season at 33-21 (13-5 BIG EAST).  Pitcher Sara Nevins, an All-BIG EAST First Team selection, finished second in the league in opposing batting average at .197 and third in ERA and strikeouts at 1.71 and 193, respectively.  Nevins is joined by All-BIG EAST Third Team picks pitcher Lindsey Richardson and outfielders Gina Kofalas and Courtney Goff.
Pittsburgh is sixth in the poll with 85 points.  The Panthers finished last year with a 34-17 overall mark and a 13-8 record in the BIG EAST.  All-BIG EAST selections catcher Holly Stevens and third baseman Kelly Hmiel will lead Pitt, which led the league with 13 triples last season.
With 74 points, Rutgers earned the No. 7 slot in this year's poll.  The Scarlet Knights went 19-30 overall and 7-12 in BIG EAST play to earn a spot in the 2011 conference championship.  RU graduated All-BIG EAST selection Mandy Craig but returns third baseman Brittney Lindley, who led the league in batting average (.440), slugging percentage (.816), on base percentage (.553), and total bases (115).
Connecticut landed in the eighth position of the preseason poll with 54 points.  The Huskies finished last season with a 19-30 overall record and a 6-15 league total.  All-BIG EAST catcher Andrea Huelsenbeck returns for UConn, which ranked third in stolen bases last season. 
Ninth and 10th positions on the poll are separated by only one point.  Providence comes in with 52 total points while St. John's rounds out the top-10 with 51 points.  The Friars are led by outfielder Michelle Huber and utility player Jen Abrams.  
The final three preseason poll positions are held by Villanova, Georgetown and Seton Hall.  The Wildcats picked up 45 points in the coaches' poll while the Hoyas and the Pirates claimed 23 and 20 points, respectively. 
This season's BIG EAST Championship will be held in Notre Dame, Ind. hosted by the University of Notre Dame.  The league's top eight teams will advance to the three-day tournament, which begins on May 10.  The championship game on May 12 at 3 p.m. will be televised live on ESPN2.
2012 BIG EAST Softball Preseason Poll
                                             Points             2011 Record (BIG EAST)
  1. DePaul (3)                     130                        41-15 (19-2)
  2. Syracuse (4)                  128                        45-13 (15-5)
  3. Notre Dame (3)              121                        46-11 (19-1)              
  4. Louisville (2)                   120                        38-20 (12-7)
  5. USF (1)                         111                        33-21 (13-5)
  6. Pittsburgh                      85                          34-17 (13-8)
  7. Rutgers                         74                          19-30 (7-12)
  8. Connecticut                    54                         19-30 (6-15)
  9. Providence                     52                          23-30 (7-13)
  10. St. John's                      51                          20-30 (6-12)
  11. Villanova                        45                        16-32-1 (3-18)
  12. Georgetown                    23                         13-40 (6-12)
  13. Seton Hall                      20                         16-35 (3-19)