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Rhiannon Potkey | D1Softball.com | February 6, 2021

2021 ACC softball preview: Florida State leads deep conference

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Projected standings

Ranking School
No. 1 Florida State
No. 2 Virginia Tech
No. 3 Duke
No. 4 Notre Dame
No. 5 North Carolina
No. 6 Clemson
No. 7 NC State
No. 8 Georgia Tech
No. 9 Louisville
No. 10 Syracuse
No. 11 Pittsburgh
No. 12 Virginia
No. 13 Boston College

Preseason awards

Player: Sydney Sherrill, Florida State
Pitcher: Keely Rochard, Virginia Tech 
Newcomer: Abby Trahan, N.C. State
Projected regional teams: Florida State, Virginia Tech, Duke, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Clemson

TOP 25: Previewing the best softball teams heading into the season

Teams to watch

Florida State

The perennial ACC favorites will begin the season with the same status. The Seminoles are deeper in the circle with redshirt senior Caylan Arnold, redshirt sophomore Kathryn Sandercock, Louisville transfer Danielle Watson and redshirt freshman Emma Wilson. Arnold was 5-3 with a team-leading 1.40 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 60 IP in 2020 — her first season at FSU after transferring from Tennessee. Sandercock was 9-1 with a 2.19 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 60.2 IP. The Seminoles have experience remaining from their 2018 WCWS championship team with Sydney Sherrill, Dani Morgan, Anna Shelnutt and Elizabeth Mason. Devyn Flaherty improved after competing in the Florida Gulf Coast League over the summer. True freshman outfielder Jahni Kerr is expected to make an early impact. True freshman Hallie Wacaser, a two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year in Arkansas and Under-17 U.S. national team member, is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the fall.

Florida State Athletics Sydney Sherrill of Florida State softball Sydney Sherrill of Florida State softball.

Virginia Tech

The Hokies return ace Keely Rochard to the circle from a team that finished 21-4 in the shortened 2020 season. Rochard, D1Softball’s Top-Rated Pitcher in 2020, went 15-3 with a 1.52 ERA, 183 strikeouts and 24 walks in 120 IP. The redshirt junior led the NCAA in strikeouts, wins and shutouts (7), including two no-hitters. Offensively, Kelsey Bennett, Meredith Slaw and Kelsey Brown are back. Brown led the team in hits (34) and stolen bases (18) from the leadoff spot. Bennett drove in a team-leading 25 runs and Slaw batted a team-leading .409 with 21 RBIs. True freshman shortstop Cameron Fagan will make an immediate impact. The Hokies lost starting shortstop Maddi Banks, who transferred to Ole Miss.

EXTRA INNINGS: The longest games in WCWS college softball history

Duke

The Blue Devils have a bit of a chip on their shoulder to prove they are one of the top teams in the country. They were off to a great start with a 23-4 record in 2020 before the season was canceled. Duke belted a single-season record 26 home runs despite the shortened season. Junior middle infielder Deja Davis led Duke with a .412 average, and has shown great improvement in the offseason. Junior Caroline Jacobsen hit .368 with 31 RBIs and a single-season program record nine home runs in 2020. Senior Jameson Kavel led the ACC in runs scored (29), and is 44 of 47 in stolen bases in her career. The pitching staff is led by senior ace Peyton George, who was 10-2 with a 2.05 ERA in 68.1 IP in 2020. True freshman Claire Davidson is expected to contribute immediately. Davidson, the first lefty pitcher in program history, is a two-way player with power at the plate.

Keep an eye on

Clemson

The Tigers had their debut season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, but they still generated plenty of excitement in 2020. Clemson filled the stadium for home games while going 19-8 and 5-1 in the ACC before the remainder of the games were canceled. The Tigers began to hit their stride once ACC play began, and want to continue that momentum in 2021. Clemson Softball Stadium will be limited to just 366 fans to start the 2021 season because of Covid-19 safety precautions. Like last season, Clemson expects Valerie Cagle to be a star in the circle and at the plate. The redshirt freshman was 9-6 with a 2.19 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 89.2 IP in 2020 while batting .376 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs. Junior Marissa Guimbarda batted .355 with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs in 2020. Senior shortstop Ansley Gilstrap is returning from a cerebral spinal leak that kept her sidelined in 2020. True freshman McKenzie Clark is an outfielder with power and speed.

NC State

The Wolfpack aren’t shy about being an offensive-oriented team. They want to hit the long ball and they want to score runs. Tatyana Forbes and Sam Russ are the sparks at the top of the lineup. Forbes is the NCAA Division I active career batting average leader (.463). In 2020, she batted .538 with 43 hits. Senior pitcher Abby Trahan redshirted last year after transferring from Southern Miss. Trahan was the 2019 Conference USA Pitcher of the Year after going 14-11 with a 1.89 ERA and 129 strikeouts. Sydney Nestor and Sam Gress return with experience in the circle, and incoming freshmen Brooklyn Lucero and Estelle Czech have the potential to contribute.

CHAMPIONS: 6 college softball teams with the most national championships | DII softball champs

North Carolina

The Tar Heels are hoping to rebound this season after going 10-14 in 2020. A big boost for the Tar Heels is the return of redshirt senior pitcher Brittany Pickett. The left-hander played in nine games before suffering a season-ending hand injury. Pickett has thrown more than 220 innings in each of her first three seasons. She was 23-14 with a 2.02 ERA, 228 strikeouts and 63 walks in 2019. Junior Hannah George shouldered the load in Pickett’s absence, going 9-6 with a 3.40 ERA in 96.2 IP. Offensively, UNC will need contributions from Campbell Hutcherson, Bri Stubbs, Destiny Middleton and Kristina Burkhardt.

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