Feb. 5, 2014
NEW YORK, N.Y. – DePaul was chosen as the BIG EAST favorite to win the 2014 softball crown as the league announced the coaches’ poll on Wednesday. The Blue Demons, who will serve as the host of the 2014 BIG EAST Softball Championship in May, earned six first-place votes en route to tallying 48 points. Conference coaches ranked the teams one through seven and were not allowed to vote for their own programs.
DePaul returns eight starters from the 2013 season in which the Blue Demons went 32-21, including 16-6 in BIG EAST play. DePaul welcomes back 23-game winner Kirsten Verdun, whose 1.90 ERA ranked fifth in the conference in 2013, while her .371 batting average is best among Blue Demon returners. Verdun is a three-time All-BIG EAST first team selection. Thirty-three year head coach Eugene Lenti will look to guide the Blue Demons to their 18th NCAA berth in the last 20 years when they open on Feb. 7 against Maryland in Miami, Fla.
DePaul edged out BIG EAST newcomer Creighton for the top spot, with the Bluejays totaling 44 points and the remaining two first-place votes. CU went 29-18 in 2013, including 15-7 in Missouri Valley play en route to claiming the regular-season title. Twenty-year head coach Brent Vigness welcomes back 2013 MVC Pitcher of the Year Becca Changstrom, who went 22-9 with a 1.70 ERA. The Bluejays begin their first season of BIG EAST play on Feb. 6 in Tempe, Ariz., against Arizona State and San Jose State.
Georgetown and Providence tied for third with 30 points apiece. Under the direction of ninth-year head coach Pat Conlan, the Hoyas went 21-33 last season, including 10-12 in BIG EAST play. The Friars went 23-28-1 in 2013, with Kerri Jacklets returning for a ninth year as head coach of PC. Elyse Graziano leads the returning class for GU, with Graziano ranking fourth in the league last season with 19 stolen bases and batting .328 to list second on the Hoyas’ roster. Providence’s RBI leader in 2013 is back on the field for the Friars this year in junior first baseman Kristi Dederick.
Georgetown opens the 2014 season on Feb. 7 in Fort Myers, Fla., against Liberty and Florida Gulf Coast. Providence begins the year on Feb. 14 in Boca Raton, Fla., against Long Island and South Carolina.
St. John’s claimed the No. 5 spot in the poll with 27 points. The Red Storm and eighth-year head coach Amy Kvilhaug went 17-35-1 in 2013, including 7-15 in BIG EAST games. Sophomore right-hander Tori Free returns after recording 207 strikeouts last season, while 2013 BIG EAST triples leader (four) Yvonne Rericha is also back for St. John’s. The Red Storm open the 2014 campaign in Boca Raton, Fla., on Feb. 7 against Tulsa and Ohio State.
Seton Hall followed in sixth place in the preseason poll with 23 points. Paige Smith enters her second season as head coach of the Pirates after leading SHU to a 21-30 mark in 2013. Seton Hall went 8-13 in BIG EAST action last year, with 21-game starter Danielle Destaso back in the circle this season. Senior Maria DeLuca is the Pirates’ top returning hitter after batting .344 with a team-high 39 RBI in 2013.
Led by 30th-year head coach Maria DiBernardi, Villanova was tabbed seventh with 12 points in the poll. The Wildcats went 21-31 in 2013, collecting three BIG EAST wins in the process. Freshman standout right-handed pitcher Kate Poppe returns for her sophomore season. Poppe had a BIG EAST-best 20 strikeouts against Lafayette on April 25, while the 255 Ks on the season ranked third best among all league pitchers. Poppe and the Wildcats begin the 2014 season on Feb. 21 in Fort Myers, Fla., against Harvard and Florida Gulf Coast.
BIG EAST newcomer Butler rounded out the poll in eighth place and 10 points. Scott Hall returns to the dugout for a fourth season as head coach of the Bulldogs after going 22-24 in 2013. Butler went 11-9 in Atlantic-10 play a season ago, with eight starters returning in 2014. A-10 All-Rookie pitcher Kristin Gutierrez returns to the circle for the Bulldogs in 2014, after making 24 appearances and registering 88 strikeouts in her first season. Butler opens the year on Feb. 8 in Nashville, Tenn., with games against Belmont and East Tennessee State.
The 2014 BIG EAST Championship is scheduled for May 9-10 in Rosemont, Ill. The single-elimination tournament will feature the top four teams in the league battling for the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals.
BIG EAST Preseason Poll
1. DePaul – 48 points (six first-place votes)
2. Creighton – 44 points (two first-place votes)
3. Georgetown – 30 points
Providence – 30 points
5. St. John’s – 27 points
6. Seton Hall – 23 points
7. Villanova – 12 points
8. Butler – 10 points