BRIDGEPORT — West Liberty and West Virginia State have been tabbed by the league coaches as the preseason favorites for the 2020 Mountain East Conference softball season.
West Liberty was picked to finish first in the North Division with 65 points, including 10 first-place votes.
The Hilltoppers return nine starters from last year’s team that went 38-19, won the MEC North Division and MEC Tournament, and served as a host in the NCAA Atlantic Region Tournament. Kat Donzella returns behind the plate for WLU after hitting .346 with 16 home runs and 50 RBI last season.
A pair of All-MEC second team selections from last year are also back to head coach Herb Minch’s lineup in center fielder Katie Beeman (.366) and third baseman Allie Cook (.344).
The pitching staff will be led by Taylor Bonnett (3-1, 1.28 ERA) and Makenzie Amend (12-7, 2.62 ERA).
Fairmont State is tabbed second in the North Division with 57 points (two first-place votes).
The Falcons posted their most wins in a season since 2014 last year. Fairmont State will be led by a pair of All-MEC second team selections in infielders Jenny Stubbs (.303) and Courtney Worcester (.326, 20 RBI).
The Falcons boasted a school-record 2.61 ERA in 2019, but will have to replace its top pitcher Hannah Absalom, who graduated.
Notre Dame was selected third in the poll with 43 points. McKenzie Zigmont and Taylor Olson return to lead NDC last season. Zigmont hit .327 last year and also had 10 wins in the circle, and Olson had 11 wins and a 3.34 ERA.
Frostburg State was picked fourth in the division with 32 points.
The Bobcats will be led by Amber Keene, who hit .433 and drove in 33 last year. Urbana was next with 28 points, and Wheeling, under the direction of first-year head coach Tiffany Buckmaster, was sixth with 21 points.
West Virginia State is the top pick in the South Division with 65 points and 10 first-place votes.
The defending South Division champions went 35-16 overall last year (23-8 MEC) and served as a host for the NCAA Atlantic Region Tournament. WVSU graduated a pair of first team All-MEC honorees, but bring back a trio of players who earned second team honors in Madee Rafuson, Paige Scruggs and Emily Moore. Rafuson hit .380 and worked behind the plate, while Scruggs hit .413 with 32 RBI in the outfield for the Yellow Jackets. Moore posted an 8-3 record in the circle with a 2.07 ERA a season ago.
Concord was picked second in the division with 49 points and one first-place vote.
The Mountain Lions, who went 38-21 and made a trip to the NCAA Tournament, bring back a pair of players who earned top MEC honors last year in Jenna Witt, the reigning Player of the Year, and Laura Thompson, the conference’s 2019 Freshman of the Year. Witt hit .409 last year with nine home runs, 18 doubles and 46 RBI. Thompson was a dual-threat hitting .371 while also going 9-7 with a 3.25 ERA in the circle.
The Mountain Lions also welcome back Cartney Schoolcraft, who had a team-high 18 wins and posted a 2.50 ERA a season ago.
Charleston was slotted third in the South Division with 45 points. The Golden Eagles will be led offensively by Destinee Miles (.381) and Karli Pinkerton (.301).
West Virginia Wesleyan was picked fourth with 44 points and had the remaining first-place vote. Lauryn King (.417) and Kennedy Cowart (.416) each hit over .400 last year and will try to get the Bobcats back to the conference tournament.
Davis & Elkins was picked fifth with 22 points, just ahead of Glenville State (21 points).
The Senators went 20-30 last year while playing in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, while Glenville State is coming off a 14-36 season.
2020 MEC Preseason
1. West Liberty — 65 (10)
2. Fairmont State — 57 (2)
3. Notre Dame — 43
4. Frostburg State — 32
5. Urbana — 28
6. Wheeling — 21
1. West Virginia State — 65 (10)
2. Concord — 49 (1)
3. Charleston —45
4. West Virginia Wesleyan — 44 (1)
5. Davis & Elkins —22
6. Glenville State — 21