AAC and Mid Major Conference Outlook

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On this edition of In The Circle podcast, Eric Lopez and Victor Anderson talk to Justin McCleod of Justin’s World about the upcoming season in the American Conference as well discussions on other mid major teams. Among topics discussed

  • Who can knock off UCF in American Conference?
  • Can South Florida and Tulsa get back to NCAA Tournament?
  • Which mid-major team is a sleeper for Oklahoma City?
  • Whats the outlook of James Madison and Louisiana Lafayette?

In The Circle Podcast : American Conference outlook and Mid-Major Teams talk

Check out Justin’s World previews of American East, Big Sky, Big South, Horizon League, Ivy League, MEAC, and MAAC as well as the Patriot League, Northeast, So Con, Summit, SWAC, WAC, and WCC Conferences. Check every conference preview by Justin McCleod right here.

2016 American Athletic Conference Softball Preseason Coaches’ Poll

School Points
1. UCF (4) 33
2. Tulsa (2) 31
3. Houston (1) 27
4. USF 23
5. East Carolina 12
6. Memphis 11
7. UConn 10

Players to Watch:

  • Shelby Turnier- UCF– Turnier led the NCAA with a 0.87 ERA last season edging out her teammate Mackenzie Audas who had 0.95 . Turnier had a  record-breaking season for the Knights by going 25-8 with 268 strikeouts on her way to winning the 2015 American Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year and  being named to the 2015 NFCA Division I All-America First Team. Turnier finished last season as a top ten finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year award and was named last week to the Top 50 watch list for the award for the upcoming season.
  •  Caitlin Sill, Tulsa – Despite a record just under .500 a year ago, Sill enjoyed the best season of her career in 2015. With a 2.65 career ERA and opponents hitting below .240 against her the past two seasons, she stands with a golden opportunity to finish her career in the circle stellarly. Her strikeout/walk ratio could use improvement, but there are otherwise few complaints about her skill set.
  •  Emily Gaitan, South Florida – In an abbreviated non-conference campaign with the SEC’s Ole Miss a year ago, Gaitan impressed, putting together a sub-2.00 ERA and an 8-2 record. In 2014, her only full season as a Rebel, opponents hit .235 against her and she published a 3.93 ERA in seventy-three innings. In a decidedly-lower level of competition in moving from the SEC to the AAC, she could enjoy similar statistics in an elevated amount of work.

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2016 Sun Belt Conference Preseason Poll (First Place Votes)                            
1. UL Lafayette (8) – 98 pts
2. South Alabama (1) – 90 pts
3. Georgia State – 74 pts
4. Texas State – 71 pts
5. Troy – 66 pts
6. UL Monroe – 56 pts
7. UT Arlington – 46 pts
8. Georgia Southern – 38 pts
9. Appalachian State – 28 pts

 Sun Belt Softball Preseason All-Conference Team
Taylor Rogers, Georgia Southern, Junior, Outfield
Taylor Anderson, Georgia State, Senior, Shortstop
Ivie Drake, Georgia State, Sophomore, Catcher
Devin Brown, South Alabama, Sophomore, Pitcher
Emily Messer, South Alabama, Senior, Third Base
Stephanie Pilkington, South Alabama, Senior, Outfield
Randi Rupp, Texas State, Sophomore, Pitcher
Kendall Wiley, Texas State, Senior, First Base
Lexie Elkins, UL Lafayette, Senior, Catcher
Haley Hayden, UL Lafayette, Junior, Second Base
Shellie Landry, UL Lafayette, Senior, Outfield
DJ Sanders, UL Lafayette, Sophomore, Shortstop
Kelsey Vincent, UL Lafayette, Senior, First Base
Rochelle Roberts, UL Monroe, Junior, Outfield
Mya Anderson, UT Arlington, Senior, Designated Player

Preseason Student-Athlete of the Year
Lexie Elkins, UL Lafayette, Catcher, Senior

Preseason Pitcher of the Year
Randi Rupp, Texas State, Pitcher, Sophomore

Players to Watch

  •  Lexie Elkins– the two-time reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year (2014, 2015) is returning for her senior season behind the plate for the Cajuns. She was named as the First Team All-American and Diamond Sports/NFCA Division I Catcher of the Year in 2015 after posting a .541 batting average. She generated a school-record 32 home runs, which led all levels of collegiate softball and tied for second on the NCAA all-division single-season list. Elkins also led the nation in RBI’s per game with an average of 1.54, recording 53 in league play. Recording 20 homeruns in 2015, she upped her career total to 11 multiple-home run games.
  •  Randi Rupp was named the 2016 Sun Belt Preseason Pitcher of the Year. As a freshman, Rupp quickly made her mark by leading the league in strikeouts with 293. She was named First-Team All-Sun Belt Conference last season, as well as to the NFCA All-Region Second-Team under the coaching from Asst Coach Cat Osterman.

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2016 CAA Softball Coaches’ Predicted Order of Finish
1. James Madison (56 points)
2. Hofstra (49)
3. College of Charleston (39)
4. Elon (38)
5. Towson (37)
6. Delaware (24)
7. UNCW (19)
8. Drexel (16)
Players to Watch:
– Jailyn Ford, James Madison –Ford has helped put JMU on the national map and made herself virtually a household name, an almost-unheard of feat coming from a small mid-major. Twice an all-American and a former conference Pitcher and Player of the Year, she is simply a sensational player. Especially when coupled with sophomore Megan Good both in the circle and at the plate, Ford packs a dangerous, deadly punch both in the circle and at the plate.
– Caryn Bailey, Hofstra – Bailey earned National Player of the Week honors the first week of May last season after batting .667 with four home runs and eight RBI in the conference tournament. The performance was an opportunity for her to receive national acclaim, but followed up much of the same that she had been doing throughout the season. Ending the campaign with a .386/16/52 slash line and a .737 slugging percentage, Bailey played a hueg role in the Pride’s success a year ago and figures to do the same in 2016. A senior, look for her swan song to be a memorable one.
Eric Lopez’s NCAA Tournament Projections 
American – UCF, Tulsa, South Florida
Sun Belt – Louisiana Lafayette, South Alabama
CAA- James Madison, Hofstra
A-Sun- USC Upstate, Lipcomb
A-10- Fordham
Big East- St John’s
Big West- Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton
CUSA- Florida Atlantic, UAB, Marshall
MAC- Kent State
MVC- Missouri State
Mountain West- Fresno State, San Diego State
OVC- Tennessee Tech
Southland- Northwestern State 
MEAC- Bethune Cookman
IVY- Dartmouth
Horizon- Oakland
Big South- Coastal Carolina
Big Sky- Weber State
American East- Stony Brook
WAC- New Mexico State
WCC- BYU
SWAC- Texas Southern
Summit- North Dakota State
Southern- Chattanoga
Patriot- Bucknell
Northeast- St Francis 
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