This season marks the beginning of a new era of University of Charleston (W.Va.) softball.

Coming off a trip to the NCAA Division II Women's College World Series, the Golden Eagles enter the new season ranked No. 11 nationally in the NFCA poll. It's also the first season for new coach Kim Stiles.

"I'm very excited for this season. We have a lot of talent," Stiles said. "We're hoping to come out and have a really good season again and just pick up where we left off."

And Stiles will have a roster loaded with returning talent, as well as several promising incoming players to work with as UC prepares to hit the ground running when it opens the season.

The Golden Eagles, who were picked to finish second in the South division of the Mountain East Conference this season behind No. 14 West Virginia Wesleyan, bring back all three pitchers from a pitching staff that helped pave the way to 50 victories in 2016 and had a staff earned run average of just 1.61. That includes reigning MEC Pitcher of the Year Alli Burdette and second team all-conference pick Jessie Rowe.

Burdette finished 32-4 and pitched 236 innings while striking out 203 batters and allowing just 73 run in 2016, while Rowe went 18-7 with a 1.57 ERA in 178.2 innings pitched.

"We're really deep in our pitching staff," Stiles said. "Alli throws the ball hard and has really good movement and stays composed.

"Of course, it's really nice to look and understand that we have a staff and we can rely on Jessie Rowe to pitch big innings for us as well. That's going to be very beneficial because the two of them did an outstanding job last year and they can do that again and even improve some this year."

UC also returns plenty in the field. Outfielder Rachelle Toppings and first baseman Laura Ashlock highlight that group of returners after earning first team all-MEC honors a year ago.

Ashlock hit .356 and was third in the MEC with 13 home runs in 2016, while Toppings was third in the conference with 79 hits as she batted .354 as the Golden Eagles' leadoff hitter.

"Our returning players definitely bring a level of leadership to the program that you really need," Stiles said. "They set the example. We have some big-time players back and it helps our younger players to get to watch them and play alongside of them as they get ready to step up."

The Golden Eagles also return catcher Bethany Williams while they will look to replace three starters in the infield with a handful of newcomers like second baseman Karli Pinkerton from Sissonville, as well as shortstop Monica Carter and third baseman Haleigh Christopher.

UC opens the regular season Friday against King University and WVU Tech before a couple of games on Saturday against Lincoln Memorial University and Coker College.

Stiles believes this team has the depth to be able to get back to where it was a year ago and compete for another MEC title and put together another deep postseason run.

"Something I say all the time is how important it is to take care of the little things and do those right," Stiles said. "Doing those things right will win games for you and will get you on the path to winning a lot of games again." ___

This article is written by Michael Carvelli from The Charleston Gazette, W.Va. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.