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Friday, January 6, 2017

Atlantic Ten Conference Forecast

An FCS-level conference, all but one of the conference's member schools sit east of the Mississippi River. The lone "standout" is Saint Louis. Of the conference's fourteen member schools, ten compete in softball. Duke will become number twelve next season. 

The top six teams in the regular-season standings earn berths to the conference tournament. The top two seeds earn first-round byes/ The tournament operates on a double-elimination format, with the tournament champion earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament's field of sixty-four. The 2017 conference tournament will be hosted in Fairfax, Virginia.

Team that could improve and surprise: George Washington Colonials
     (It surprised many this offseason when former Mercer head coach James DeFeo made a seemingly-lateral move to DC to take over the Colonials program; after a successful career at Mercer, where the program set numerous records under his leadership and underwent a seamless conference change in 2015, DeFeo elected to take over the rebuilding, or perhaps rather retooling, of the GW program. He returns many important pieces from the 2016 squad, including four players that all hit .300 and above. Senior Monica Macchiarulo and her .384 average that led the pack last season returns for her swan song. The Colonials struggled somewhat in the power game, both in home runs and extra base hits, but considering DeFeo's impact particularly on the Mercer offense, one can expect that to turn around in fairly short order. An important piece returning is pitcher Sarah Costlow, who can be an effective staff leader. Though some of her numbers can use some improvement, she has proven to be effective at times against quality opponents and should be counted on to lead, even as just a junior in the circle. Could see the Colonials challenge for a higher conference seed and make some noise in the conference tournament.)

Team that could decline and disappoint: Saint Joseph's Hawks
     (This may seem like an odd spot for a team that earned the #5 overall seed in the conference tournament last season, but the Hawks got hot in that same tournament, advancing to the title game on the back of three straight wins. Though two losses, one in extra innings, to Fordham ended the Hawks' NCAA tournament plans, the program showed some promise and fire at the end of the year. Whether or not that momentum will carry into 2017, though, remains to be seen. Several important role players departed via graduation, most notably 2016 home run leader Sarah Yoos, and her .363 batting average, to boot; departed, too, are pitcher Anna Lauterbach (2.02 ERA, 78 SO in 93+ innings) and Brandi Harkness (.272/7/30).)

Dayton junior P Manda Cash, the reigning
A10 Pitcher of the Year
Player of the Year: Amanda Kulp, Saint Joseph's
Pitcher of the Year: Manda Cash, Dayton
Coach of the Year: James DeFeo, George Washington

Conference Champs: Fordham Rams
Top WCWS Contender: Fordham Rams

Players to Watch:
--> Manda Cash, Dayton – If there is *any* player who has suffered from playing for a small-market team more than Manda Cash, you'd be hard-pressed to find them. In her freshman season, she posted a 13-2 w/l record and a 1.49 ERA with 167 strikeouts. For those who may attribute that to "beginner's luck", she turned around and improved, even, in her senior season, to the tune of 183 strikeouts and an opponent's batting average of a dismal .158. She was named the conference's Pitcher of the Year and earned all-conference and all-region first-team honors. In 2017, expect more of the same of what has come to be the norm for Cash, except you can and should expect to see some national "hype" with her name attached, as well.
--> Lindsay Mayer, Fordham – The reigning A10 Player of the Year and former Virginia transfer enjoyed a breakout season at the plate in 2016, hitting .343 on the year with four home runs; forty-three RBI; thirteen doubles; and sixty-two hits. She slugged .481 on the year. She earned all-conference first team and all-region third-team honors for her efforts. In her swan song season, she should yet again be a stalwart in the Rams batting order.

Biggest Questions:
* Will Dayton junior P Manda Cash continue her torrid career run through A10 play and will she finally receive national acclaim for her efforts?
* Can Fordham retain their long-held reign atop the conference?

Top Seniors:
P – Lauren Quense, Fordham
IF – Amy Van Hoven, Fordham; Lindsay Mayer, Fordham; Megan Linn, George Washington; Jena Cozza, Massachusetts; Michelle Hagarty, LaSalle
OF – Sydney Canessa, Fordham; Mackenzie Peter, Saint Louis; Monica Macchiarulo, George Washington
UT/DP – Gabrielle Snyder, Dayton

Conference Projection:
1. Fordham Rams
2. Dayton Flyers
3. Saint Louis Billikens
4. Massachusetts Minutewomen
5. George Washington Colonials
6. Saint Joseph's Hawks
7. George Mason Patriots
8. La Salle Explorers
Others: St. Bonaventure Bonnies; Rhode Island Rams

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