College softball rankings: Two-time defending champion Oklahoma opens No. 1 in preseason polls
NORMAN — The Oklahoma softball program has won the last two national championships, and voters in both major national preseason polls released Tuesday again have it slated at the top. The Sooners are ranked No. 1 in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll and in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll.
This marks the second straight year that OU is ranked No. 1 in both preseason polls. Prior to last year, the Sooners had never entered a season with the top ranking in either poll.
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OU garnered 31 of 32 first-place votes and 799 points in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll, which is voted on by 32 NCAA Division I head coaches, one representing each conference. It is followed by national runner-up Florida, which tallied 762 points and the other first-place vote. The rest of the top 10 consists of Oregon (719 points), Washington (674), UCLA (645), Texas A&M (571), Arizona (555), LSU (550), Florida State (545) and fellow Big 12 member Baylor (530).
Oklahoma, Michigan, UCLA and Washington are the only programs to be ranked in every NFCA preseason poll, which dates back to 1995. OU also extended its streak of being ranked every week in the 24-year existence of the NFCA's poll, 338 weeks in all.
Overall, the Sooners rank third with 18 top-10 appearances in the NFCA preseason poll, trailing only Arizona (20) and UCLA (19).
This is the eighth straight year the Sooners have started in the NFCA's top 10, good for the nation's longest active streak. In fact, OU has been ranked in the top five in six of the past seven years, which is tied with Florida for the most over that stretch.
In the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll, the Sooners received 18 first-place votes and 496 points. They are followed in the top 10 by Florida (469 points), Oregon (463; one first-place vote), UCLA (410; one first-place vote), Washington (403), Florida State (387), Arizona (359), LSU (345), Texas A&M (334) and Alabama (316).
This marks the 11th straight season and 14th in the 16-year history of the ESPN.com/USA Today poll that Oklahoma is ranked in the preseason top 10. The ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll is voted on by coaching representatives of 11 Division I Conferences in the 10 USA Softball regions and by media members who consistently cover Division I softball across the country.
Oklahoma returns all nine of its 2017 All-Big 12 honorees from a squad that went 61-9 overall, 17-1 in the Big 12 and won the program's third national title in the last five years (fourth overall). Returning first-team All-Big 12 selections are junior infielder Shay Knighten, senior pitcher Paige Lowary, sophomore utility player Nicole Mendes (unanimous pick) and senior pitcher Paige Parker. Returning second-team All-Big 12 honorees are junior outfielder Falepolima Aviu, junior infielder Caleigh Clifton, senior outfielder Nicole Pendley and junior infielder Sydney Romero. Mendes and pitcher Mariah Lopez were members of the 2017 Big 12 All-Freshman Team.
#Sooners the preseason favorite in both major national polls for second straight year. But postseason No. 1 is always the goal. More info, both polls https://t.co/XvzahbKqCZ #ChampionshipMindset pic.twitter.com/DioKHJOGqz— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) January 30, 2018
Knighten was named 2017 Big 12 Player of the Year, Parker was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Year for the third time, and Patty Gasso was named Big 12 Coach of the Year for the 10th time.
The Sooners, who won their final 11 games last year and 38 of their last 40, begin the 2018 season Feb. 9 in Phoenix when they take on Weber State (3:30 p.m. CT) and Grand Canyon (6:30 p.m. CT) in the GCU Kickoff Tournament. OU will also play Montana and University of the Pacific in the event, as well as Grand Canyon a second time.
Oklahoma's 2018 schedule features seven teams ranked in either of the preseason polls, including three in the top 10. The first regular season polls will be published Feb. 13.
OU's home opener will be Friday, March 2 against Missouri State.