ROCK HILL, S.C.—With 115 points and one first-place vote, Carson-Newman's softball program has been picked to finish second by the coaches of the South Atlantic Conference, the league office announced Wednesday afternoon.
Lincoln Memorial was picked to repeat as SAC champs with 131 points and 10 first-place votes after a wild 2019.
"I think second place is a fair assessment," Carson-Newman head softball coach Michael Graves said. "We return a lot, but anytime you have to replace the reigning conference pitcher of the year (Allison Rager), it's a big deal. I very much appreciate that the coaches in this league think so highly of us, but we have lots of work to do if we want to attain that high a place in the standings."
Carson-Newman is coming off a season where it was nationally ranked for a good portion of the year and played a tough enough schedule to host a regional in spite of finishing second in the league standings and as tournament runner-up in 2019.
Picking this year's preseason prognostications could be a fool's errand given how much parity the SAC had a year ago. Last year heading into the final doubleheader of the year, the SAC regular season title could have been split five ways. Furthermore, the Eagles, who entered a twinbill with Newberry tied for sixth, could have won the league championship, or finished in 10th and at home for the conference tournament.
"Our conference record against other league's spoke for itself last year," Graves said. "This league is so competitive. When we went into the final doubleheader of the year and could have missed the tournament, but ended up finishing second – that speaks to just how talented and deep our conference is. There are no gimmie games. You have to play your absolute best game in and game out to be competitive in the South Atlantic Conference."
Lincoln Memorial was nearly a unanimous choice to repeat as conference champions. Coaches can't vote for their own teams, but the Railsplitters collected all but two of the first place votes. Carson-Newman got one and Anderson (who LMU downed to advance to Super Regional play last year) got the other.
The Trojans were picked third in the league standings. Lenoir-Rhyne followed in fourth with regional participant Wingate in fifth. C-N, LMU, Anderson and Wingate made up one half of last year's Southeast Reginal.
The fifth team that made postseason play last year, Coker, was on the other side of the bracket. The Cobras were picked sixth in the preseason standings.
Newberry and Queens are in position in seventh and eighth to make the SAC tournament, while the coaches have Catawba, Tusculum, Mars Hill and UVa-Wise on the outside looking in.
Carson-Newman opens the year Feb. 3 at Converse.