Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Colonial Athletic Conference Forecast

The Colonial consists of ten schools located up and down the East coast. Eight of the ten member schools sponsor softball, with the exceptions being Northeastern and William and Mary.

The top five seeds in the regular-season conference standings make the conference tournament. The tournament operates on a double-elimination format over the course of four days, with the winner earning the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament's field of sixty-four. The 2017 tournament will be hosted by James Madison in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Team that could surprise: James Madison Dukes
In her first year without Jailyn Ford's backup, expect Megan Good
to continue her dominance in the circle and at the plate.
Photo: JMU Athletic Communications
     (After an impressive run last season that continued into the postseason, the Dukes' World Series hopes fell a bit flat in a loss to LSU in the Supers. Between many adaptions of the "one year wonder" moniker and the graduation of dual-threat extraordinaire Jailyn Ford, some don't give the Dukes much credence this season as a contender. That is a mistake. Mickey Dean still has his ace in the hole in Megan Good and several role players are in position to be effective on an everyday basis. Jessica Mrozek and Taylor Newton are two on offense that could really break out this year. The Dukes may not be as dominant this year, but don't count them as contenders nevertheless.)

Team that could disappoint: College of Charleston Cougars
     (Linda Kalafatis has assembled yet another all-star coaching staff at C of C, adding former Virginia Tech assistant and Portland State head Barb Sherwood and former Florida Gator and Western Kentucky assistant Aja Paculba. The Cougars return several players of significance, including three of their top four hitters from a season ago, led by Taylor DuPree and her reigning .378 batting average. In the circle, Samantha Martin impressed with a sub-3.00 ERA and close to a 3/1 strikeout/walk ratio. The Cougars are selected here because I do not see a clear path for them to the top. The pieces are in place - some, including Martin, for the final time - but it remains to be seen if the squad can take advantage of those opportunities. They travel to Towson, as well as Harrisonburg to play James Madison; anything other than a top-four conference standing and at least one tournament win should be considered a disappointment.)

Player of the Year: Morgan Tolle, James Madison
Pitcher of the Year: Megan Good, James Madison
Coach of the Year: Mickey Dean, James Madison

Conference Champs: James Madison Dukes
Top WCWS Contender: James Madison Dukes

Players to Watch:
--> Anna Steinmetz, Delaware – The young Blue Hen enjoyed an impressive season at the dish in her first year, earning all-conference second-team honors and being named the CAA's Rookie of the Year. Steinmetz's fifteen home runs in her first season have already vaulted her to fourth all-time in the program's history, a list she is sure to climb as her career winds on. She posted a line of .314/15/44, with a .654 slugging percentage and .394 OBP. She collected fifty base hits, almost exactly 50% of them going for extra bases. She's a smooth hitter and a solid, young player worth keeping an eye on in Newark.

--> Brittany Alloca, Hofstra – Alloca moved from the starting first base position to starting catcher last season, but didn't seem to miss a beat in the field or on offense; she committed just two errors behind the dish and raised her batting average more than 100 points over her previous career high, while nearly doubling her career home run total. I expect something of a breakout campaign once-again for Alloca in 2017.

--> Jessica Mrozek, James Madison – It was Mrozek' s RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning that scored Morgan Tolle and gave the Dukes their first-ever Super Regional victory in Game 1 over LSU. Though the rest of the series did not go her team's way, Mrozek's hit was a crowning moment of the Dukes' magical season. A frequent, if not every-day, starter, Mrozek only appeared in thirty games in 2016, as the designated hitter. She ultimately led the program with her .375 batting average and she caught fire in the postseason, clubbing a pair of home runs in the regional before the walk-off hit to kick off the Super. If given the opportunity, she could enjoy something of a breakout campign in her own right.

Biggest Questions:
* Can James Madison maintain their level of conference dominance sans-Jailyn Ford?
* Will Hofstra return to their once-constant level of consistent contender?
* In a crowded mid-conference pack, can another team step up and become a legitimate NCAA tournament contender, as well?

Top Seniors:
P – Samantha Martin, College of Charleston; Jessica Peslak, Hofstra
IF – Madyson Moran, James Madison; Niki Prince, James Madison; Holiday Cahill, Towson; Lacey Clark, Hofstra; Michaela Transue, Hofstra
OF – Taylor Newton, James Madison; Alaina Hall, Elon

Conference Projection:
1. James Madison Dukes
2. Towson Tigers
3. Delaware Blue Hens
4. College of Charleston Cougars
5. Hofstra Pride
6. Elon Phoenix
7. Drexel Dragons
8. UNC-Wilmington Seahawks

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