PROVIDENCE, R.I. - After winning a share of the 2010 BIG EAST regular season title and with six All-BIG EAST selections returning, Notre Dame took top honors in the 2011 BIG EAST Softball Preseason Coaches' Poll.
Notre Dame earned an impressive 10 first-place votes and 141 total points. The Irish return three 2010 All-BIG EAST First Team picks and three second teamers. Notre Dame went 47-12 overall in 2010 and 18-3 in the BIG EAST. Last year's BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year Jody Valdivia will be back in the circle for her senior season with the Irish. The righty posted a 1.34 ERA over 99.0 innings pitched, walking 24 batters and whiffing 93 for a 16-1 record in BIG EAST play. The Irish ended the 2010 season ranked No. 25 in the ESPN.com/USA poll and No. 24 in the USA Today/NFCA poll.
DePaul, which shared the league's 2010 regular season championship, came in second in this year's poll with three first-place votes and 129 points. The Blue Demons posted a 39-18 overall record last season and an 18-3 conference mark last season. DePaul returns three All-BIG EAST First Team players, one second team choice and two members of the all-conference third team. Anchoring the pitching staff is last year's BIG EAST Rookie of the Year Bree Brown, an all-league second team pick. The sophomore finished last season first in BIG EAST games with a .183 opposing batting average and was third in the league with 79 strikeouts.
Louisville garnered 123 points to earn the No. 3 spot in the preseason coaches' poll. The Cardinals went 41-19 in 2010 and were 16-6 in league play. Louisville, the 2010 BIG EAST Championship runner-up, returns five All-BIG EAST selections, including 2010 BIG EAST Player of the Year Chelsea Bemis. The senior third baseman led all players in BIG EAST games in slugging percentage (1.032), home runs (11) and total bases (65). She hit .413 in conference play with 26 hits and 29 RBI.
The reigning BIG EAST Champion, Syracuse, is picked to finish fourth in the league this year with all nine starters returning to the diamond. Last season junior Jenna Caira, the 2010 BIG EAST Championship Most Outstanding Player and Canadian national team pitcher, recorded a 1.95 ERA over 68.1 innings pitched in league games. The Orange ace posted seven wins and eight complete games, while sitting down 89 batters. SU went 32-26 overall last season and was 10-10 in conference play.
Pittsburgh sits in fifth with 93 points. The Panthers finished last year with a 27-25 overall mark and a 10-11 record in the BIG EAST. Senior Cory Berliner returns to toss for Pitt with a 2.24 ERA over 65.2 innings in league play last season, striking out 48 with four complete game efforts. Berliner was an All-BIG EAST Third Team selection in 2010.
With 85 points, USF earns the No. 6 slot in this year's poll. The Bulls went 24-29 overall and 9-13 in BIG EAST play for a ninth-place finish. USF graduated All-BIG EAST first teamer JoJo Medina, but returns two seasoned outfielders in juniors Gina Kafalas and Janine Richardson, a 2009 All-BIG EAST First Team pick. Kafalas was second on the team, behind Medina, hitting .283 with 15 hits and seven runs in conference play.
Villanova claims seventh, collecting 78 points. The Wildcats went 27-28 overall and 12-10 in BIG EAST competition in 2010. VU returns two all-conference selections in sophomores Valerie Ortega and Amanda Marquez. Ortega, an All-BIG EAST Second Team shortstop, posted a .327 batting average in conference action with 17 hits, five runs, seven RBI and one homerun. Marquez, the all-league third team catcher, had a .307 average at the plate with 23 hits, one home run and eight RBI.
Positions eight through 11 in this year's poll are stacked closely together as they are separated by 13 points. No. 8 Providence leads this group with 57 points, surpassing Connecticut in the ninth spot with 52 points. The Friars feature senior Justine Stratton and junior Michelle Huber, who were All-BIG EAST Third Team selections last year, while the Huskies return junior third teamer Amy Vaughan. Stratton and Huber led the PC squad, hitting .344 and .333 in conference play, respectively. Vaughan posted a .354 batting average to lead UConn.
Rutgers rounds out the top 10 of the preseason poll with 46 points, edging St. John's with 44 points. The Scarlet Knights return junior Brittney Lindley, who batted .389 in conference play last year, recording eight homers and 19 RBI. The Red Storm return All-BIG EAST Second Team pick Kacee Cox. The St. John's senior posted a .379 batting average in league competition with five home runs and 23 RBI.
The No. 12 spot belongs to Seton Hall with 27 points, while Georgetown closes out the 2011 preseason coaches' poll with 22 points. The Pirates went 19-31 overall and 8-14 in conference play last year, while the Hoyas finished 18-34 overall and 7-15 in the BIG EAST. Seton Hall returns its top hitter from last year, senior Michelle Reed, who batted .324 in league games. GU returns All-BIG EAST Second Team selection Mackensey Carter. The junior recorded a .333 batting average and a 2.63 ERA, striking out 48 batters.
This season's BIG EAST Championship returns to Louisville, Ky., for the fourth straight season. The three- day tournament begins on May 12 with four quarterfinal games. The championship game on May 14 at 5 p.m. will be televised live on ESPN2.
2011 BIG EAST Softball Preseason Poll
2010 2010 2010 BIG EAST
Points Overall Record BIG EAST Record Regular Season Finish
1. Notre Dame (10) 141 39-18 18-3 First
2. DePaul (3) 129 47-12 18-3 First
3. Louisville 123 41-19 16-6 Third
4. Syracuse 117 32-26 10-10 Fifth
5. Pittsburgh 93 27-25 10-11 Sixth
6. USF 85 24-29 9-13 Ninth
7. Villanova 78 27-28 12-10 Fourth
8. Providence 57 22-28 10-12 Seventh
9. Connecticut 52 21-30 7-15 11th
10. Rutgers 46 24-31 9-12 Eighth
11. St. John's 44 18-33 6-16 13th
12. Seton Hall 27 19-31 8-14 10th
13. Georgetown 22 18-34 7-15 11th
(-) - indicates first place votes