January 28, 2013

2013 NWC Preseason Softball Coaches' Poll / Season Preview

School (1st) Pts. 2012 Overall 2012 NWC
Pacific Lutheran University (5) 52 45-11 24-4
Linfield College (3) 48 46-7 25-3
Willamette University
37 21-15 19-9
George Fox University
29 20-22 15-13
Whitworth University
24 19-21 12-16
Pacific (Ore.) University
22 13-23 11-17
Lewis & Clark College
13 5-33 3-25
University of Puget Sound
7 3-31 3-25

(First-place votes in parenthesis. Points awarded on 8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Coaches cannot vote for their own team.)

SEATTLE, Wash. -- The head softball coaches of the Northwest Conference have selected Pacific Lutheran University as the preseason favorite to win the conference crown in 2013. The Lutes earned five of eight first-place votes, compiling 52 points and just edging out the Linfield Wildcats who received the other three first-place votes.

To end the 2012 softball season, Linfield and Pacific Lutheran met in the NCAA Division III National Championship Game. Pacific Lutheran prevailed 3-0 on the arm of senior pitcher Stacey Hagensen. 2013 is shaping up to be another battle at the top of the NWC between the two clubs. 

Hagensen pitched all 31 innings at the Division III Softball Championship and had a 0.68 earned run average, limiting her opponents to three earned runs on 21 hits with 16 strikeout and one walk. In PLU's perfect eight-game run through the regional and national tournaments, Hagensen pitched all 58 innings with a 0.60 earned run average, allowing 40 hits, striking out 37 and walking just three.

Hagensen, who was named the tournement's Most Outstanding Player, will leave large shoes the Lutes must fill. She also hit .363 from the plate along with five home runs, 37 runs batted in and a team-high 51 runs scored. 

PLU does return one of their top hitters from 2012 in the form of senior Kaaren Hatlen, who led the team in batting average, home runs, runs batted in and total bases.

Despite falling in the national title game, Linfield remains the nine-time defending Northwest Conference champion and is poised for another strong season. However, the Wildcats will lose two of their all-time greats in Staci Doucette and Emilee Lepp.

Doucette and Lepp ended her storied careers as the No. 1 and No. 2 all-time home run hitters in Division III. Doucette hit 73 homers over four seasons while Lepp added 68 more. Doucette, a four-time first team All-American, also set the NCAA career standard for RBI (259) while Lepp became the all-time leader in runs scored (247) and at-bats (687).

Chosen to finish behind the two favorites are the Willamette Bearcats, receiving 37 points in the poll. In 2012, that is exactly where Willamette finished behind Linfield and PLU. 

Willamette returns three key players from 2012 who were First Team All-Northwest Conference selections: catcher Kelli Snyder, center-fielder Yvonne Drabin and third-baseman Theresa Martin. The Bearcats are a young, up-and-coming squad looking to challenge for the NWC crown.

George Fox collected 29 points in the preseason poll, good enough for the fourth slot. The Bruins finished fourth in the conference a year ago with a 15-13 conference record. 

George Fox qualified for the Northwest Conference postseason tournament for the first time in 18 seasons. They dropped their first game to No. 1 seed Linfield 3-0 and were later eliminated by Willamette 5-1.

The Whitworth Pirates, receiving 24 points, are chosen to finish fifth. Whitworth ended 2012 in fifth with a conference record of 12-16. However, the Pirates return the majority of their starters from last season. The only major loss coming in the form of All-Northwest Conference Honorable Mention second-baseman Sami Parr. Parr hit .320 with 21 runs batted in and 14 stolen bases.

Just behind Whitworth in sixth place are the Pacific (Ore.) Boxers with 22 points. The Boxers will be hard pressed to fill the hole left behind from four-time First Team All-Northwest Conference pitcher/utility player Chelsey Chamberlain. Still, the Boxers have hope to improve upon their sub-.500 record in 2012.

Picked to finish seventh by the coaches in 2013 are the Lewis & Clark Pioneers who earned 13 points. Lewis & Clark expects to improve on their win total from a season ago with three important recruits coming to campus: infielder Hannah Del Pra, outfielder Haley Robinson and pitcher Jill Pinder. 

Slotted in eighth is the University of Puget Sound, gathering seven points in the poll. The Loggers finished 2012 with a NWC record of 3-25. UPS will also be without the services of two recipients of All-NWC honors a season ago, utility player Aryn Grause and catcher Chrissy Atterson.

The softball season officially begins February 1.

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