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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Forecast

Team that will surprise: Notre Dame
     The Irish finished 2014 with a 41-13 overall record and set school records left and right. Might make you think there's not much room left to surprise anybody. Nonetheless, we can expect even better statistical seasons from senior captain Emilee Koerner and sophomore stud Karley Wester. I believe the biggest surprise may come from the pitching staff. With All-American Laura Winter now graduated to begin her coaching career, the staff will have to work & work hard to fill the hole she leaves, and I think they'll capably do so. Two freshman hurlers join returnees Rachel Nasland & Allie Rhodes.
Team that will disappoint: Louisville
     The Cards are a solid team; let that be said from the get-go. Now, with that said, will that translate to success in 2015? I'm not sold. As they enter ACC competition for the first time as a member of the conference, the Cardinals meet Florida State at home; don't face Notre Dame; and have out-of-conference matchups against UNLV; Minnesota; Washington; Mizzou; Arkansas; Northwestern; a home-and-home series against Kentucky; and a three-game set against Ole Miss in Oxford. If any year should belong to the Cardinals, this should be it. They graduated four starters last year, including two All-Americans, and saw the departure of Caralisa Connell from the circle, in addition.

Player of the YearEmilee Koerner, Notre Dame
Pitcher of the Year: Emily Weiman, NC State
Coach of the Year: Deanna Gumpf, Notre Dame

Conference Champs: Florida State Seminoles
Top WCWS Contender: Florida State
     (The 'Noles saw their trip to Oklahoma City be short-lived in 2014, but don't be surprised if they make a return trip this season. Maddie O'Brien is an offensive star, and Lacey Waldrop, the reigning National Player of the Year, dominates from the circle. The Fighting Irish have more than a fair shot to grab one of the eight spots, as well, but FSU carries the best odds going into the regular season.)

Players to Watch:
- Maddie O'Brien, Florida State - An All-American first teamer last season, O'Brien is one of the finest hitters in the country. Both a slugger & a stellar hitter for average, her 2014 stat line of .424/24/83 really tells all you need to know. Not only will she lead Lonni Alameda's squad offensively, she's a smart, veteran player and very well may add another All-American honor to her trophy case in 2015.
- Kelsi Jones, Louisville - The Mizzou transfer played sparingly in two seasons in Columbia, but was a star at soon as she put on a Cardinals uniform last season. A .300+ batting average; a .568 slugging percentage; and nearly a dozen roundtrippers made up a pretty impressive stat line. Jones, along with fellow senior Brittany Duncan (coincidentally the two leading home run hitters in 2014), will lead the offense this season.
- Emily Weiman, NC State - Running on two straight All-ACC nods, Weiman is the epitome of a workhorse and should make a solid prospect for pro ball if she chooses to go that route. Weiman recorded sixty-three victories over the last two season, and opponents have hit just .231 against her in her career. Nearly a 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio adds another impressive statistic to her resume. Don't sleep on Weiman as a potential all-American selection and a solid mid-round pro draft choice.
- Karley Wester, Notre Dame - All Wester did in her inaugural season of collegiate ball was make the all-American second team and be named freshman of the year and all-conference first-team. She also led her team in batting average; hits; triples; and stolen bases. And that was in her freshman season. We can expect much of the same in 2015, and a first-team All-American is completely reachable for the Fighting Irish's star sophomore.
- Sydney O'Hara, Syracuse - Another freshman phenom, O'Hara received far less publicity than her counterpart in South Bend. A first-team all-conference & all-region selection to her own credit, O'Hara put together a solid season in the pitching circle as well as at the plate offensively. At the plate, she reached first base via contact in one-third of her plate appearances, plus seventeen walks. Her slugging percentage of .510 was good enough for fifth on the team, and her fourteen doubles paced the squad. In the circle, she led the staff with a sub-4.00 ERA in nearly sixty more innings of work than any of the other hurlers. Her K/BB ratio was almost exactly 2/1, and opponents hit a respectable .228 against her.

Top Seniors:
P - Lacey Waldrop, Florida State; Kylie Kleinschmidt, Georgia Tech; Emily Weiman, NC State
IF - Maddie O'Brien, Florida State; Renada Davis, NC State; Jenna Kelly, North Carolina; Kylie McGoldrick, Virginia Tech
OF - Kelsi Jones, Louisville; Emilee Koerner, Notre Dame
UT - Bailey Schinella, Florida State

Conference Projection (2014 finish in parentheses):
1. Florida State (1)
2. Notre Dame (2)
3. Virginia Tech (3)
4. Syracuse (6)
5. Louisville (5th, AAC)
6. NC State (4)
7. North Carolina (5)
8. Georgia Tech (8)

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