Team that might surprise us all: UAB Blazers
|The 2013 UAB Blazers after they upset #15 Louisville in the|
(You're probably questioning me already: "Justin," you're saying, "how is a team that reached the Super Regionals last season going to surprise anybody?" The Blazers took the regular-season crown and were surprisingly upset by the Marshall Thundering Herd in the conference tournament semifinals. They rebounded in the NCAA tournament, upsetting both #15 seed Louisville and UCLA in the regional before losing two one-run games in the Gainesville Super Regional. The surprise will come in, I believe, when the Blazers repeat and perhaps even better that feat. Conference USA is, for the most part, a very level, even conference, but UAB is one of maybe two or three that stand out head-and-shoulders above their conference foes. I honestly expect Marla Townsend's team to repeat much of their 2013 success, and put up a good fight to go even farther in the postseason. The pitching duo of Lannah Campbell & Leigh Streetman is a great one, and while three of the squad's top five 2013 hitters have graduated, I expect first baseman/designated hitter Kristen McGrath to have a breakout season at the
Team that might disappoint us all: None
(Like I said above, this is a very level conference, and I really couldn't come up with any team that fits this spot. There are a few that may have "down" seasons from their 2013 campaign, but none so much as to qualify for this spot.)
Pitcher of the Year: Aimee Creger, Tulsa
Coach of the Year: Marla Townsend, UAB
Conference Champs: UAB Blazers
Players to Watch:
Ashley Kirk, North Texas - One of the very understated potential NPF draft picks for this season, Kirk's one of the best pitchers in Mean Green history. She's a dominant strikeout-oriented hurler, with a sub-2.40 ERA and a .203 opponent's batting average in her 2013 stat line. I may have predicted Aimee Creger to be Pitcher of the Year, but I think Kirk stands the best chance of anybody in the conference to "upset" Creger for that award. A second-team all-conference selection last season, I fully expect to see her earn a first-team nod this campaign.
Kaelynn Greene, Marshall - Shonda Stanton is going to need a couple of breakout superstars this season, and Greene is primed and set to be someone who fills that role. After a freshman campaign that will go down as one of the best in Herd softball's history, Greene comes into 2014 looking to build even on that, and I honestly believe she will do so. She was named to the all-conference first team, as well as the all-freshman team, and ranked in the top ten in three different categories in Conference USA. I fully expect another first-team nod and a couple of top-five finish in conference statistical categories.
Laura Dukes, Middle Tennessee - On a floundering MTSU team, Dukes is a shining star. She led her squad in batting average, home runs, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and walks in 2013, and I see no reason she won't continue that pace this season. I don't think a .290/12/30 line is out of reach for her by any means.
3. North Texas
4. East Carolina
6. Louisiana Tech
8. Florida International