FRISCO, TEXAS - McNeese is the unanimous favorite to win the 2018 Southland Conference softball regular season, according to the league's head coaches and sports information directors. The conference announced the preseason poll Wednesday.
The Cowgirls swept all possible first-place votes for the second consecutive season. The preseason poll is voted on by head coaches and SIDs from each Southland softball school. Voting for one's own team is not permitted.
After winning back-to-back Southland regular season and tournament championships in 2016 and 2017, McNeese vies to become the first three-peat Southland tournament champion in history and the first back-to-back-to-back regular season champion since Texas State accomplished the feat in 2008-10. The Cowgirls return three-time Southland Player of the Year Erika Piancastelli and six additional starters from a season ago. McNeese, along with Abilene Christian and Nicholls, placed five players on the preseason all-conference teams.
The Wildcats and Colonels tied for second in the poll with 205 points. ACU garnered two first-place votes coming off a 2017 season where the Wildcats recorded a 20-7 Southland record and would have been the No. 2 seed in the Southland Conference Softball Tournament but were in their final year of transition to Division I. This is the Wildcats first season eligible for Southland and NCAA postseason tournaments. Nicholls made it to the Southland tournament championship in 2017 after finishing the league season 19-8 to claim the second seed.
Lamar, who lost in a controversial ending at the National Invitational Softball Championship last season, is tabbed to place fourth, just 15 points outside of ACU and Nicholls.
Central Arkansas, Northwestern State and Sam Houston State are predicted to finish fifth through seventh, respectively.
Southeastern Louisiana and Stephen F. Austin each received 105 points to split the eighth spot in the poll. Houston Baptist is picked to take 10th, UIW is predicted to finish 11th and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi rounds out the 12-team league.
The 2018 season begins with McNeese taking the field with a doubleheader against Virginia on Feb. 8 in Lake Charles, La. First pitch is set for 5:30 p.m. CT. Sam Houston starts its season at 6 p.m. against Texas State in San Marcos, Texas. The remaining 10 league teams get their seasons going on Feb. 9.
For the first time in 30 years, eight teams will compete at the Southland Conference Softball Tournament. McNeese will host the 2018 tournament May 8-11 at Cowgirl Diamond.
Coaches and SIDs Poll (first place votes):