BRIDGEPORT — Shepherd and West Virginia Wesleyan have been tabbed by the league coaches as the preseason favorites for the 2019 Mountain East Conference softball season.
The Rams were picked to finish first in the North with 66 points and collected 11 first-place points. Lori Sturgill, a first-team All-MEC selection last year, does a little bit of everything for Shepherd hitting .345 at the plate and going 14-9 with a 1.81 ERA last season. Kaitlyn Konopka also earned first-team honors after hitting .344 last year.
Leann Brown hit a team-high .346 in her freshman season for the Rams and will be back in the infield this season.
Fairmont State was picked to finish second in the North Division with 51 points (one first-place vote). The Fighting Falcons return a pair of first-team All-MEC selections in third baseman Jenny Stubbs (.339 BA, 5 HR) and shortstop Courtney Worcester (.333 BA, 10 2B).
Despite losing several key components from last year's squad that played for the MEC Tournament title, Wheeling Jesuit was selected to finish third with 47 points. Outfielder Alaina York earned first-team all-league honors as a freshman last year after hitting .314. Starters Molly Welsh (.286 BA), Brianna Grimes (19 RBI) and Jackie Cramer (.264 BA) also return to the WJU lineup. Erin Unterbrink has the most returning experience in the circle going 8-9 last year with a 2.88 ERA.
Notre Dame, under the direction of first-year head coach and former Falcon standout Kelsey Stopp, is picked to finish fourth with 35 points.
West Liberty was slotted fifth (30 points), while Urbana was sixth (17 points).
West Virginia Wesleyan, the two-time defending South Division champions, are the narrow favorite to win the division once again. The Lady Bobcats finished with 60 points with five first-place votes, while MEC Tournament champions West Virginia State earned seven first-place votes but finished with 59 points.
Freshman standout Lauryn King was a league leader in several offensive categories last season and will be counted on in her sophomore season for WVWC. She hit .391 with 12 home runs, 19 doubles and 58 RBI a season ago. Haylee Shires (12-5, 3.59 ERA) and Kelley Bourne (4-2, 4.67 ERA) will try to account for the loss of three-time MEC Pitcher of the Year Hannah Vet in the circle.
West Virginia State brings back several regulars from last year's squad that went 35-22 and won the MEC Tournament title, including first-team All-MEC backstop Brittany Allison (.352 BA, 6 HR, 38 RBI) and second-team pick at shortstop Kayleigh Jackson (.296 BA). Emily Moore led WVSU in innings pitched (156.2), wins (16) and earned run average (2.14) as a freshman a season ago.
UVa-Wise was picked third in the South Division with 44 points. The Cavs graduated standout pitcher Taylor Brandts and third baseman Samantha Ely, but bring back All-MEC second-team honoree Alexis Miles (.404 BA, 25 RBI) along with Kaylee Jones (.318 BA, 6 HR).
Charleston has six regulars back from last year's squad, including Haleigh Christopher who blasted 11 home runs and drove in 41 runs last season.
Concord, led by preseason All-American Jenna Witt (.448 BA, 23 2B, 6 HR, 29 RBI), was picked to finish fifth with 32 points.
Glenville State rounded out the South Division poll with 16 points.
MEC PRESEASON POLL
1. Shepherd — 66 (11)
2. Fairmont State — 51 (1)
3. Wheeling Jesuit — 47
4. Notre Dame — 35
5. West Liberty — 30
6. Urbana — 17
1. W.Va. Wesleyan — 60 (5)
2. W.Va. State — 59 (7)
3. UVa-Wise — 44
4. Charleston —35
5. Concord — 32
6. Glenville State —16