Saturday, January 28, 2017

Missouri Valley Conference Forecast

The Missouri Valley Conference is made up of ten member schools, all of whom are located in the five-state region of Missouri; Kansas; Iowa; Illinois; and Indiana. The MVC does not sponsor football, though all ten member schools sponsor softball as a varsity sport.

The top eight teams after the regular season advance to the conference tournament. The tournament operates on a single-elimination format, with the #3 and #4 seeds receiving a bye to the second round and the #1 and #2 seeds receiving a double-bye to the semifinal round. The 2017 conference tournament will be held in Normal, Illinois, hosted by Illinois State.

Team that could improve and surprise: Drake Bulldogs
     (Though the Bulldogs' overall record was near the .500 mark, they performed well in conference, amassing a 17-8 record in league play. Victories over Power Five schools Arkansas and Iowa State added bright spots in the early part of the year. Freshman Kennedy Frank impressed as a freshman, leading the team in batting average, home runs, and slugging percentage. Nicole Newman established herself as a legitimate workhorse in the circle, putting together a sub-3.00 ERA and 286 strikeouts in 220 innings in the circle. With pitcher Mariah McKinnon the only departed senior, the time is right for Rich Calvert's club to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.)

Team that could decline and disappoint: Wichita State Shockers
     (Long the perennial favorite in the conference race, Kristi Bredbenner always seems to keep her program near the conference's top. Losing all-star Cacy Williams will hurt the Shockers, though; Williams paced her squad in batting average, home runs, RBI, total bases, and slugging percentage. Williams' absence coupled with the surge of the Drake Bulldogs, as discussed previously, may knock the Shockers down a peg in 2017.)

Player of the Year: Kennedy Frank, Drake
Pitcher of the Year: Brianna Jones, Southern Illinois
Coach of the Year: Rich Calvert, Drake

Conference Champs: Drake Bulldogs
Top WCWS Contender: Drake Bulldogs

Players to Watch:
Kennedy Frank, Drake – As a Bulldog freshman, Frank earned all-conference first-team honors and was an all-region third-team selection. She paced her program in batting average; home runs; slugging percentage; and total bases. A breakout star in just her first season, and now with a full year of experience under her belt, expect Frank to get even better and be a solid part of the Bulldogs' success this season.

Brianna Jones, Southern Illinois – A breakout freshman in her own right at SIU, Jones earned herself a spot as one of the top ten freshmen in the nation and earned an all-conference nod and all-region honors for her efforts. She posted a season's ERA under 2.00 and opponents hit .228 against her in more than 207 innings of work. With the continued depth behind her, Jones should establish herself as one of the conference's best in the circle.

Erika Hansen, Bradley – Though an injury slowed her down early on, Hansen earned second-team all-conference honors a season ago. It was her second all-conference nod in as many years as a Brave. She ended the season with a .328 batting average and nine extra base hits, including eight doubles. With a full season to rebound and improve, expect a return to 2015 form for the junior.

Biggest Questions:
*Who, if anybody, can upset Wichita State for the crown? Will it be Drake?

Top Seniors:
P – Jenni Brooks, Wichita State
C – Jordan de los Reyes, Illinois State
IF – Macklin Hitz, Wichita State; Kelli Spring, Wichita State; Shaye Harre, Southern Illinois
OF – Megan Sowa, Drake; Merri Anne Patterson, Southern Illinois; Kelly Kapp, Bradley; Olivia Roark, Missouri State; Erica Nagel, Loyola

Conference Projection:
1. Drake Bulldogs
2. Wichita State Shockers
3. Southern Illinois Salukis
4. Illinois State Redbirds
5. Northern Iowa Panthers
6. Bradley Braves
7. Evansville Lady Aces
8. Missouri State Lady Bears
Others: Indiana State Sycamores; Loyola Chicago Ramblers

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