Jan. 14, 2009

Courtesy of Louisville

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The University of Louisville is tied for third with Notre Dame in the 2009 BIG EAST Softball Preseason Coaches' Poll. DePaul was picked first and South Florida was second. The coaches were not permitted to vote for their own teams.

The Cardinals are coming off of a 31-23 season and earned the program's fifth consecutive NCAA bid. U of L went 1-2 in NCAA play, falling to Virginia Tech in 10 innings, beating Winthrop in the loser's bracket and losing to host Tennessee. U of L fielded only three upperclassmen in the starting lineup throughout the season and returns 11 letterwinners and eight starters.

After falling to Louisville in the first round of the BIG EAST Tournament, Notre Dame shared the Cardinals' fortune in the NCAA postseason. The Irish registered a 1-2 showing in NCAA play, making quick work of Kent State, 9-1, in their opening game, but taking a loss to Michigan and another in a rematch with Kent State the next day.

DePaul cruised to a 4-1 win over top-seed USF to take the 2008 BIG EAST Championship crown, making way for it's pick as preseason favorite in 2009. The Blue Demons finished last season ranked No. 22 in the final USA Today/NFCA Top 25 Poll and will return their entire pitching staff, headlined by junior All-American Becca Heteniak. Heteniak struck out a school-record 315 batters and compiled a 33-8 record last season in route to earning BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year honors.

USF takes the second spot on the preseason poll, picking up four first-place votes from the coaches. The Bulls wrapped up their first BIG EAST regular-season championship in 2008 and made their ninth appearance in the NCAA Championship. Sophomore pitcher Capri Catalano, the 2008 BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, returns to lead the bulls from the mound. Catalano threw 129 innings as a rookie, amassing a 17-1 record.

Connecticut received sole possession of fifth place in the poll, two spots below their third-place finish in the 2008 standings. Senior outfielder Micah Truax returns to the Huskies' lineup as the reigning BIG EAST Player of the Year. Truax, who received the honor for the second straight season last year, finished the 2008 BIG EAST regular season with a league-leading .508 batting average.
 
Syracuse qualified for its sixth straight BIG EAST Championship appearance in 2008 and has the talent to compete for its fifth in a row this season. The Orange were picked to finish fifth in the BIG EAST Preseason Poll. Senior catcher Amy Kelley returns behind the plate after a stellar junior campaign. Kelley became the first Syracuse player to hit three home runs in three consecutive at-bats in the first game of a doubleheader with Seton Hall. For her performance, Kelley was named the BIG EAST Player of the Week on April 21.

Pittsburgh falls into seventh place in the poll, after finishing seventh in last season's final BIG EAST standings. The Panthers earned a trip to the 2008 BIG EAST Championship where they gave DePaul a grueling, 11-inning fight before losing 4-3 to the Blue Demons. Senior catcher Sam Card returns after earning All-BIG EAST First Team honors last year.

While the Panthers collected 70 points in the voting, Providence was right behind with 67, taking eighth place among the coaches' picks. The Friars battled top-seed USF in last season's BIG EAST Championship first round, losing 8-6 to the eventual runner-up.

Packed closely together behind the Friars in the poll's next three places are Villanova (9th), St. John's (10th) and Rutgers (11th). No more than seven points separate any of the trio in the voting. Rutgers' senior outfielder Amanda Heller returns as an All-BIG EAST Second Team Choice. Heller was a constant on the base paths, collecting a .458 on base percentage last season, which ranked sixth among BIG EAST players.

Seton Hall and Georgetown round out the preseason poll in 12th and 13th place respectively. The Pirates finished 11th in last season's final standings and return senior infielder Kealan Waldron, an All-BIG EAST Second Team selection a year ago. The Hoyas are entering their first season of BIG EAST sponsored softball. Georgetown finished 1-1 against BIG EAST squads last season, losing 3-1 to Seton Hall on March 15 and beating Rutgers 4-2 on March 21. The Hoyas finished 2008 12-41 overall.

This year's BIG EAST Championship returns to Louisville's Ulmer Stadium for the second straight season May 7-9. The first swing of the bat this season arrives on February 6 when Seton Hall takes on Marshall at 10:00 a.m. in Las Vegas, Nev. Conference play gets underway March 10 with a doubleheader in Tampa, Fla., between USF and Connecticut.

2009 BIG EAST Softball Preseason Poll
1 - DePaul (9)
2 - USF (4)
T3 - Louisville
T3 - Notre Dame
5 - Connecticut
6 - Syracuse
7 - Pittsburgh
8 - Providence
9 - Villanova
10 - St. John's
11 - Rutgers
12 - Seton Hall
13 - *Georgetown