The Central Connecticut softball team has been selected to repeat as Northeast Conference Champions this season in the 2014 NEC Preseason Coaches Poll, the league announced Wednesday. CCSU tallied five first-place votes in the poll.
The Blue Devils, who return eight starters from last year's championship squad, turned in the best season in program history in 2013, posting a new single-season win record (36), and reaching several program milestones including the first NEC Championship, first NCAA Tournament appearance and first NCAA Tournament game win.
Returning to the pitcher's circle for Central is junior and NEC Tournament MVP Laura Messina. Messina, who was also named to the All-NEC First Team and All-ECAC All-Star Second Team, posted a 1.87 ERA last season. She logged a conference-high 254.0 innings while posting an NEC-high 28 wins. Messina was also named to the NEC All-Tournament team and tallied a CCSU single-season record of 246 strikeouts, leading the NEC in the category.
2013 NEC Player of the Year Kat Malcolm also returns to the CCSU squad. The junior registered a league-best .420 batting average and also led the NEC in runs scored (50) and hits (74). She also finished third in the conference in RBI (40). In NEC play, Malcolm hit .451 and posted a .761 slugging percentage.
Malcolm was also tabbed the NEC Most Improved Player in 2013 in addition to being named Capital One Academic All-District, All-NEC First Team, NEC All-Tournament, NFCA DI All-Region and ECAC All-Star Second Team.
In addition to Messina and Malcolm, CCSU returns four more All-NEC selections including seniors Arielle Bruno and Tessa Brown as well as sophomores Evie Rentzel and Brittany Ernst. Bruno and Rentzel were also named to the NCAA All-Regional team after their performance in the tournament, including in the Blue Devils' 9-1 defeat of Northwestern State at the NCAA Tournament in Baton Rouge, LA. The win marked the NEC's first NCAA regional win since 2010.
Rentzel registered the second-highest batting average (.376) on the team as a freshman. She belted eight doubles, three triples and five home runs on the season.
Bruno, who was also named to the ECAC All-Star Second Team, racked up 56 hits, 11 doubles, one triple and tied the CCSU single-season record for home runs in a single season (10).
Following the Blue Devils on the NEC Preseason Poll is LIU Brooklyn. The Blackbirds, who faced CCSU in the 2013 NEC Championship game, earned four first-place votes. Robert Morris, who shared the NEC Regular Season Championship with Central and hosted the 2013 NEC Championships, ranked third in the poll. Bryant and Fairleigh Dickinson rounded out the top five.
The Blue Devils are set to open their season on Friday, February 28 at the USF Under Armour Invitational in Clearwater, FL. CCSU is scheduled to play a double-header, starting with Campbell at 2:15 p.m., followed by Georgia State at 4:30 p.m.
2014 Northeast Conference Softball Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Central Connecticut (5)
2. LIU Brooklyn (4)
3. Robert Morris
5. Fairleigh Dickinson
6. Sacred Heart
7. Saint Francis U
8. Mount St. Mary's
First place votes in parentheses