AUGUSTA, GA – Francis Marion University has been picked to finish second in the fight for the 2009 Peach Belt Conference softball crown, this according to the annual preseason coaches’ poll, released on Wednesday (Jan. 21). North Georgia College & State University edged out the Patriots by nine points 76-67. The Saints received five first-place votes and the Patriots four.
Georgia College & State University (64) was picked to finished third, followed by Armstrong Atlantic State University (62), UNC Pembroke (51), Columbus State University (41), Augusta State University (37), USC Aiken (25), Lander University (16), and Georgia Southwestern State University (11).
Fifth-year FMU head coach Stacey Vallee returns 14 letterwinners, in¬cluding six position starters, from last year’s 39-16 squad that ended the year ranked fifth nationally after winning the NCAA South Atlantic Regional and advancing to the Division II national finals (Elite Eight) in Houston, Texas.
Leading the position return¬ees are All-Region leftfielder Jessica Birchmeier (.383, 4 HRs, 42 RBIs) and All-Region shortstop Shannan Tyson (.377, 1 HR, 28 RBIs). In addition to the position players, All-American left-handed pitcher Michaela Wolf returns on the mound. Wolf (29-13, 1.53 ERA) became the first Patriot hurler to win 20 games twice in a career -- after winning 21 games as a freshman, and nearly became only the second FMU pitcher to win 30 games in a season. In 2008, she set school records for strikeouts (218), innings pitched (279.1), appearances (46), starts (38), complete games (29), and shutouts (11).
FMU opens its season Feb. 7-8 at the early Bird Tournament in Aiken. The Patriots will serve as the hosts for the 2009 PBC Tournament, April 17-19, at the Freedom Florence Recreational Complex.
North Georgia returns 15 players and seven starters from last year’s 35-18 team that lost to the Patriots in the championship game of the NCAA Regional Tournament. Both FMU and NGCSU posted 10-8 marks during the 2008 PBC regular season and tied for fourth place. UNCP captured the 2008 PBC regular-season championship, while GCSU won the 2008 PBC Tournament title.
Coaches were not allowed to rank their own team.
2009 Peach Belt Conference Softball Preseason Poll
No. Team (1st place votes) Total
1. North Georgia (5) 76
2. Francis Marion (4) 67
3. GCSU 64
4. Armstrong Atlantic St. (1) 62
5. UNC Pembroke 51
6. Columbus State 41
7. Augusta State 37
8. USC Aiken 25
9. Lander 16
10. Georgia Southwestern 11