Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Atlantic Coast Conference Forecast

A member of the "Power Five" group of conferences, primarily denoted as such for football purposes, the ACC is made up of schools located on and near the East coast of the United States. Of the conference's fifteen member schools, eleven compete in softball. Duke will become number twelve next season.

The top eight teams in the regular-season standings earn berths to the conference tournament. The tournament operates on a single-elimination format, with the tournament champion earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament's field of sixty-four.

Team that could improve and surprise: Florida State Seminoles
Alex Powers is our pick for 2017 ACC Player of the Year
Photo: FSU Communications
     (I talked about it specifically in my team-specific profile of the 'Noles, but they are one of the most locked-and-loaded teams in the nation this season. On offense, Alex Powers has been an absolute rock in the batting order since she was finally able to get healthy, and she is in a position to impress once again this season. Third baseman Jessica Warren is one of a handful of equally-talented players disbursed through the batting order, keeping Powers from being pitched around to face "lesser threats". Not only is head coach Lonni Alameda's offense loaded, her pitching's pretty solid, as well. All-American Jessica Burroughs and sophomore Meghan King are both quality hurlers; if King can consistently provide the effect she showed flashes of at times last season, the 'Noles could be pretty close to unstoppable.)

Team that could decline and disappoint: North Carolina State Wolfpack
     (The Wolfpack are a program that often hovers around the conference's mid-level; always competitive, but haven't quite reached the consistent-contender level yet. In 2017, though, they may regress after losing a lot this offseason. Would-be senior Courtney Mirabella, who enjoyed a stellar 2015 campaign and gathered nearly 200 innings pitched a season ago, elected not to play her senior season and simply finish her class load, leaving Shawn Rychcik in a position without his staff ace a season early. Tyler Ross, she of the .380 batting average and .766 slugging percentage in 2016, returns for her senior season, but also departed, via transfer, is slugger Meredith Burroughs and her thirteen home runs, a number that ranked second on the squad last season. Even with Ross' return and some other pieces that remain, the Wolfpack have a lot of premature absences to make up for and may have to endure a sort-of "rebuilding" year - or more - to get back on track towards that perennial mid-level status.)

Player of the Year: Alex Powers, Florida State
Pitcher of the Year: Kendra Lynch, North Carolina
Coach of the Year: Lonni Alameda, Florida State

Conference Champs: Florida State Seminoles
Top WCWS Contender: Florida State Seminoles

Players to Watch:
--> Kendra Lynch, North Carolina – One of the top dual-threat players in the nation, Lynch earned all-conference first team honors last season and should have received further recognition. On the offensive side of the ball, she enjoyed her best season yet, batting .321 in nearly 170 at-bats and clubbing twelve home runs. That matched her previous career high. In the circle, Lynch was the Tar Heels' workhorse, amassing more than three hundred innings of work and collecting an ERA just under 4.00 to go along. She averaged nearly a 2/1 SO/BB ratio and thirty-three of her forty-seven appearances were complete games. With the chance to go pro, should she choose to do so, expect some improved pitching numbers and consistency in offensive stats and an all-Region award should be in it for Lynch, as well.

--> Alex Powers, Florida State – Multiple knee surgeries stunted Powers' career taking off as soon as expected once she reached Tallahassee and it was 2016 before she really reached the level many knew she could and would. Previously finishing with a .266 batting average and nine home runs in her only full season to that point, Powers raked against the competition a season ago, posting a .396 batting average, sixteen home runs, and sixty-three RBI en route to conference Player of the Year honors. She went 8/14 in the Women's College World Series, including two home runs there, and looks to build an even stronger final campaign in her senior season. With similar and extended production, you could be looking at a Player of the Year finalist.

--> Tatiana Cortez, Boston College – Cortez continued her consistent track of markedly-improving over her career, posting the highest batting average of her career a season ago, a number that was nearly eighty points higher than her previous career high. After hitting .239 as a freshman, she put together a .301 batting average in 2015 and the .380 mark last season. If that trend continues upward, she should be close to .500 this year!! Even in the instance that that does not happen, you can expect that same marked consistency from her bat and in the field.

--> Giorgiana Zeremenko, Pittsburgh – Zeremenko's seventeen home runs a season ago set a single-season record for her program and her .888 slugging percentage ranked in the top ten nationally; the class of 2018 slugger added a .392 batting average and fifty-two RBI for the breakout statistical quartet. With some lineup protection still in place, you can expect another solid season at the plate, albeit not with the eye-popping numbers of a year ago.

Biggest Questions:
* How good is Florida State's pitching really?
* Who will present the biggest challenge to the 'Noles for the conference crown?

Top Seniors:
P – Jessica Burroughs, Florida State; Kendra Lynch, North Carolina; Rachel Nasland, Notre Dame; Jordan Weed, Boston College
C – Sydney Broderick, Florida State; Tatiana Cortez, Boston College; Molly Hutchison, North Carolina State
IF – Alex Powers, Florida State; Ellie Cooper, Florida State
OF – Karley Wester, Notre Dame; Jordan McNary, Louisville; Samantha Pierznnunzi, Georgia Tech; Tyler Ross, North Carolina State
UT/DP – Sydney O'Hara, Syracuse; Maryssa Becker, Louisville

Conference Projection:
1. Florida State Seminoles
2. North Carolina Tar Heels
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
4. Pittsburgh Panthers
5. Virginia Tech Hokies
6. Syracuse Orange
7. Louisville Cardinals
8. Boston College Eagles
Others: North Carolina State Wolfpack; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets; Virginia Cavaliers

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