ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Two-time defending tournament champions, Greenville University have been tabbed as the 2018 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference softball favorites. Greenville picked up 76 total points edging out last year's regular-season champion Westminster College by one point. Webster University and Spalding University round out the top four of the poll.
Greenville picked up four first-place votes from the league's coaches after going 24-17 overall last year and finishing 14-4 in SLIAC play. The Panthers, coached by Buddy Foster, return 12 players including seven starters. Among the starters returning are a pair of All-Region players in Kate Jolliff-Rosado and Becca Oldham. Jolliff-Rosado hit .440 with 7 home runs and 46 runs batted in; finishing in the top three among SLIAC players in all three categories and earning First Team All-Conference honors. Oldham was a Second Team All-Conference player at utility and hit .408 with 9 home runs and 43 runs batted in while also making six starts and holding a 4.15 earned-run average. Outfielder Josie Koontz was also a Second Team All-Conference player after hitting .286 and adding seven stolen bases. It will be interesting to see how the Panther pitching staff handles the graduation of two-time tournament MVP and top pitcher Brianna Anderson. Among those that should compete for that spot are freshmen Kendall Farr and Maegan Stone. The Panthers also bring in junior college First Team All-American infielder Beth Mersinger.
Westminster received five first-place votes and 75 total points in the poll for second place. The Blue Jays return six starters from last year's team that went 24-13 overall and 16-2 in the conference. Head Coach Joe Henderson will look to three-year starter Amber Tepen ton anchor the Westminster offense. Tepen, an outfielder, hit .361 with 3 home runs and 31 runs batted in last season while earning First Team All-Conference honors. The lineup will be filled out with a trio of sophomores: Callie Collier (.347 average with 26 RBI), Mackenzie Myers (.345 average with 20 RBI), and Aubrie Vaughn (.354 average with 4 HR). The Blue Jays will need their young team to continue to develop as they graduated All-American and two-time SLIAC Player of the Year Erica Burney and lost 2017 SLIAC Newcomer of the Year Josie Cotter for the season due to an injury. Henderson welcomes an incoming class of 14 freshman and four transfers. Among the newcomers expected to contribute will be sophomore transfers Madison Ingram and Maddie Washington as well as pitcher Allie Tomson. Katie Price, a versatile player that earned All-Conference honors last season as a freshman should head up the pitching staff after going 10-4 last season and throwing just under 100 innings in the circle.
After making a run to last year's championship game Webster picked up 59 total points for third place among SLIAC teams. Head Coach Christ Eaton and the Gorloks were one of the conference's top offensive teams last year, tying for the league lead with 25 home runs. The Gorloks were 28-15 overall and 13-5 in the SLIAC last season. Among the six returning starters are All-Conference players Abby Burroughs and Morgan Mansur. Burroughs, a sophomore outfielder, stepped right into the Gorlok lineup and made an impact; hitting .399 with 7 home runs and 37 runs batted in. Mansur meanwhile finished with a team-high 10 wins in the circle, finishing with a 3.16 earned-run average and 55 strikeouts. Also back are sophomore shortstop Taylor White, who hit .324 and led the team with nine stolen bases, and senior pitcher Chelsea Thornley, who recorded 9 wins and a 3.39 earned-run average. Freshmen Amanda Kraus and Skiela Martinez, both outfielders, and transfer Brienna Sheperd, a junior infielder, will be counted on to play some as well.
Spalding is expected to return to the playoffs as they were picked fourth with 54 total points, receiving the final first-place vote from the coaches. The Golden Eagles were 19-17 overall and 11-7 in conference action last season. They return 10 players and seven starters including All-Conference infielders Sam Klein and Lindsay Hubbard. Klein, a senior, hit .365 with 3 home runs and 22 runs batted in last season while Hubbard, a junior, hit .381 with 11 runs batted in and 13 stolen bases. Senior Caroline Hale will give the team some additional leadership and hit .305 with a team-high four home runs last season. Junior catcher Mackenzie Henderson hit .364 last season with 14 runs batted in. Overall the Golden Eagles return their top six hitters from last season. Their big question entering the season will be in the circle where they have to replace Robyn Schoen. A group of 13 newcomers is led by the freshman trio of Ally Klein, Callie Janek, and Jennifer Peffley.
Eureka College was chosen fifth with 53 total points. The Red Devils, coached by Debi Neff, finished 21-15 overall last season and went 9-9 in the SLIAC. They return nine players and seven starters including a trio of First Team All-Conference players. The strong senior class of Kerrigan Dura, Kalie George, and Krysten Wallace have been a part of the Red Devil resurgence the last few years and will look to return to the tournament in their final go-around. Dura, a shortstop, led the SLIAC with a .456 batting average and struck out just twice last season while finishing with a .523 on-base percentage. George, a pitcher and infielder, hit .339 with a team-high 36 runs batted in while recording 52 strikeouts in 114 innings and recording 10 wins with a 2.57 earned-run average. Wallace, an outfielder, is one of the top defensive players in the league; recording two outfield assists last season and hitting .343 during conference play.
Fontbonne University received 48 total points to finish sixth in the poll. Casey Cromwell takes over the program as head coach of a team that went 13-23 overall last season and 11-7 against SLIAC opponents. They return 13 players and eight starters but the one starter not returning is All-Conference outfielder Sam Brown (due to injuries). The Griffins will still have plenty of talented upper-classmen to rely on however including Courtney Kedroski and Emelia Modglin. Kedroski, a senior shortstop, hit .379 with 3 home runs and 23 runs batted in while swiping seven bases and finishing with a .965 fielding percentage. Modglin, a junior catcher, hit .404 with two home runs and 19 runs batted in last season. Maddie Cooksey, a junior outfielder, hit .282 and finished with 25 runs scored while earning Second Team All-Conference honors. Diamond Thomas, a junior, is valuable both at the plate (.298 average and 8 stolen bases) and in the circle (3.08 earned-run average).
Iowa Wesleyan University was selected seventh with 31 points. The Tigers, coached by Mike Hampton, bring back seven starters from a team that went 14-22 overall and 7-11 in the SLIAC last season. Heading up the list of returners is senior pitcher Samantha McIlwain. She earned Third Team All-Conference honors last season after leading all conference players with 109 strikeouts. She is joined in the circle by Julie Dodd, who threw a team-best 109 innings last season. Dodd also hit .292 last year and drove in nine. Juniors McKenzie Copher (.264 average and a team-high 25 RBI) and Sydnee Stalker (.240 average) will be looked to for offensive production. Ashley Machholz, a sophomore outfielder, played in all 36 games as a freshman and should use that experience this season in her favor. Among newcomers looking to push their way into the lineup will be Serena Almodovar, Chelbie Gillespie, and Haley Varga.
Blackburn College finished with 28 total points for eighth place. The Beavers were 13-19 overall last season under head coach Kerry Crum and return 10 players and nine starters. The Beavers gained plenty of experience last season with a roster that featured no seniors. The one loss the Beavers did suffer is a big one as shortstop Emma Trybom, who led the nation in on-base percentage, transferred due to a change in majors. The Beaver lineup is led by senior outfielder Daniele Burnell, who earned First Team All-Conference honors after hitting .432 with 3 home runs and 33 runs batted in. Hannah Goett, a senior, can play anywhere in the field but it is her bat that impresses most after hitting .430 with 28 RBI and 12 doubles last season. Sophomore Lexie Yockey hit .383 with 20 runs batted in as a freshman last season while Allison Howard (.305 average) and Abby Frerichs (.293 average) continue to add to the Beavers offensive production. Jensen Ballinger, a junior, threw nearly 100 innings in the circle and picked up nine wins. Newcomers Halle Fransen and Baylee Hughes are transfers and should see time on the field.
In ninth place was Principia College, picking up 16 total points. Head Coach Ken Leavoy brings back seven starters from last year's team that went 6-28 overall. Hannah Hathaway, a Third Team All-Conference infielder last season, hit .388 with 2 home runs and 18 runs batted in with a .625 slugging percentage. Surrounding her will be sophomore catcher Lauren Daugherty (.299 average) as well as Emily Hewitt, Tanya Marquardt, and Leah Schaefer; who coach Leavoy feels will be better prepared at the plate this year after a strong off-season. Schaefer will also serve as the team's top pitcher after working 93 innings last season as a freshman and recording 48 strikeouts. Newcomer Alyssa Hudenberg will follow Schaefer in the circle and should also provide some offensive power.
MacMurray College rounded out the poll by receiving 10 total points. The Highlanders were 2-34 last year and head coach Samantha Valentine returns seven players and five starters. A young team, that had no seniors and 9 of 11 players being freshmen or sophomores last year, the Highlanders will continue with the youth movement once again in 2018. Top newcomers are junior Raven Talashoma and freshman Lauren Wengert. Among the returners is second baseman Brooke Allen, a sophomore that hit .320 with 10 runs batted in. Also back are Kiersten Hann, a junior utility player, hit .321 while making seven starts and junior pitcher Haley Stewart worked 108 innings while striking out 49.