Team that will surprise: Central Michigan
Margo Jonker's boasted the highest win total in the conference in 2014, though they finished near .500 in MAC games. I expect that latter number to improve this season and CMU should finish a good bit higher than the 5th-place spot they boasted last year. Senior Trista Cox led her team in batting average and home runs last season, and is an excellent offensive player. CarolAnn Sexauer is no slouch at the plate, either. Rachael Knapp came in and posted the lowest ERA in the most innings of the three starters on the Chips' '14 squad. Her 2.5/1 walk/strikeout ratio was solid, and opponents hit just .205 against her. She'll have to shoulder more of the burden this season, and if she's up to the challenge, she is a star in the making.
Team that will disappoint: Buffalo
I said last year that I think the Bulls are in a good place w/ Trena Peel at the helm. I still believe that's the case, but with a huge turnover of talent between last season and this, I feel confident we won't see the team repeat as division champs. The pacesetters in the MAC Eastern division last season, the Bulls lost all-conference first-teamers Sammi Gallardo & Holly Luciano on offense. All three pitching starters graduated, as well; Tori Speckman will leave the biggest hole there. Nine freshmen leave the future bright, but 2015 might just have to be a write-off for the Bulls as their young players learn to mesh together and come through in big moments. A different story a year ago and perhaps a year in the future, but I'm not sure they'll be too much of a factor this season.
Player of the Year: Maddy Grimm, Kent State
Pitcher of the Year: Rachael Knapp, Central Michigan
Coach of the Year: Karen Linder, Kent State
Conference Champs: Kent State
Top WCWS Contender: Kent State
(This was a tough spot to fill. Any of the teams I projected to finish in the top four - Kent State, Central Michigan, Ball State, and Ohio - could be the bet, albeit a longshot one, to rep the MAC in the World Series.)
Players to Watch:
- Savannah Jo Dorsey, Ohio - Ohio rises and falls on the arm of Dorsey. Easy enough, right? A serious workhorse, she shoulders the brunt of the time in the circle for the Bobcats & gains some fair time at the dish, in addition. Her 25-18 record attests to her durability, and I expect to see a little wider margin between the number in the "W" column and the number in the "L" column this year.
- Maddy Grimm, Kent State - Grimm earned all-conference honors in her freshman season in 2014, as well as three division Player of the Week awards over the course of the season. She tied the program's single-season home run record and started every one of her team's games. Young and full of potential, her batting average and OBP could stand a little improvement, but stats otherwise comparable to her 2014 campaign should be enough to earn her all-conference honors once again.
- Trista Cox, Central Michigan - I've talked about Cox a lot, and I think we could see an all-star offensive season from her this year. A second-team all-conference selection last year, I think she could be looking at first-team honors this season. Her strikeout/walk ratio could use a little evening-out, but even that stat line wasn't horrible last season; similarity to her 2014 success and we could be looking at a solid prospect for the pro league, as well.
P - Jamie Kertes, Bowling Green; Emma Johnson, Kent State; Jessica Sturm, Northern Illinois
IF - Kellie Roudabush, Akron; CarolAnn Sexauer, Central Michigan
OF - Loren Cihlar, Ball State; Karly Nevez, Buffalo; Trista Cox, Central Michigan; Kim Kirkpatrick, Kent State; Bryanna Phelan, Northern Illinois; Adrienne Gebele, Ohio
UT - Alexis Curtiss, Buffalo
Conference Projection (2014 finish in parentheses):
1. Kent State (2)
2. Central Michigan (5)
3. Ohio (6)
4. Ball State (1)
5. Akron (3)
6. Northern Illinois (9)
7. Buffalo (4)
8. Bowling Green (7)