Release  Alex Kelly ·

INDIANAPOLIS – Lynn Curylo returned to her alma mater, UIC, during the offseason and finds her team tabbed as the preseason favorite. The Flames won the regular season title a season ago.

Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team in the poll.

UIC returns three players that received all-league accolades from a year ago, including reigning Pitcher of the Year, Elaine Heflin. The senior recorded 19 wins against 9 losses with a 1.43 ERA pitching 180.2 innings during the 2016 campaign. Outfielder, Lexi Watts and infielder, Tiana Mack-Miller return to the field for UIC after both received postseason honors. Last season, Watts started all 51 games for the squad in center field, batting .362 including a team-best .377 in league play. Third baseman Mack-Miller hit .321 and registered a .959 fielding percentage in 2016, earning second team all-league. Both Heflin and Mack-Miller earned spots on the 2016 spring academic all-league team.

Wright State finished second in the voting as the Raiders are headlined by a first-year coach as well with Justine Wichman taking the helm. Wright State returns a conference-best four all-league members from last year’s squad that went 18-6 in Horizon League play. Becka Peterson, Honnah Susor, and Ashley Sharp were first-team selections last season and will look to build off of last year’s success.

After winning the tournament championship as the sixth seed, Valparaiso is picked to finish third. Tournament MVP Sam Stewart is back behind the plate for the Crusaders after leading the team in home runs (7) and RBI (33).

Finishing fourth in the poll, Youngstown State brings back a couple of big bats in the line-up with outfielders Cali Mikovich and Sarah Dowd. Mikovich totaled 13 home runs, 41 runs batted in, and a .398 batting average while Dowd recorded 11 homers, 35 runs batted in and a .305 batting average.

Pitcher Erin Kownacki returns for Oakland as the squad is picked to finish fifth in the poll. After earning first team all-league distinctions in 2015, Kownacki sat out last season due to a medical condition.

With 2016 Player of the Year Erica McNew lost to graduation, Cleveland State is predicted to finish sixth. The Vikings have just two seniors on their roster and will rely on their young core of players.

With a new head coach in Scott Wachholz, Green Bay is picked seventh in the poll and returns Acacia Tupa into the lineup. The sophomore outfielder batted .303 with five home runs and 28 runs batted in to earn a spot on the second team all-league as well as the all-freshman team.

Detroit Mercy and Northern Kentucky round out the preseason poll. Both teams return a member of the all-freshman squad in Jordan Manno for the Titans and Zahrya McFarland representing the Norse.

The season will open February 10 and conference play will begin March 24. The Horizon League Softball championship will take place May 10-13 at the site of the highest seed that meets facility requirements.

2017 Preseason Poll 
Rank  School (1st)  Points 
1.   UIC, (7) 62
2.   Wright State, (1) 55
3.   Valparaiso, (1) 47
4.   Youngstown State, 43
5.   Oakland, 35
6.   Cleveland State, 27
7.   Green Bay, 24
8.   Detroit Mercy, 20
9.   Northern Kentucky, 11

Tags: Cleveland State - Softball · Detroit Mercy - Softball · Green Bay - Softball · Horizon League - Softball · Northern Kentucky - Softball · Oakland - Softball · UIC - Softball · Valparaiso - Softball · Wright State - Softball · Youngstown State - Softball
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