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Saints selected to top softball preseason poll
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AUGUSTA — The North Georgia Lady Saints softball team has been selected as the team to beat for the 2010 softball season in a poll of the league’s head coaches released Wednesday.

The Lady Saints received nine of a possible 10 first-place votes to finish with 99 points, outdistancing Francis Marion in second place.

Augusta State and GCSU were tied for third while Armstrong Atlantic State was fifth, one point ahead of USC Aiken in sixth. Spots two through six were separated by five points.

North Georgia is coming off its most successful season ever as the Lady Saints won the Peach Belt Conference regular season and tournament titles, took the NCAA Southeast Region crown, were ranked No. 1 in the nation while advancing to the semifinal round of the Division II College Softball World Series.

North Georgia returns eight starters from the 2009 team, including Peach Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year and All-American Sarah Phillips, while All-Americans Leslee Smith and Courtney McGuire will enter their senior seasons after combining to hit 21 home runs last year.

Francis Marion welcomes back six letterwinners, including three position starters, the designated hitter, and one starting pitcher, from a 2009 squad that finished 32-19.

Starting pitcher Michaela Wolf is back for her senior season after winning over 20 games for the third time in her career. With 70 career wins, she is currently 7th on the Peach Belt Conference all-time list.

Also returning is All-Peach Belt Conference left fielder Jessica Birchmeier and three-year infield starter Kat Beauvais.

Augusta State returned to the NCAA Tournament last year and have made the postseason field in two of the last three years.

For 2010 the Lady Jaguars return six starters among their position players and three of the top four pitchers from last season’s squad that posted a 34-21 record.

Among the returners is Peach Belt Conference Freshman of the Year Kacee Camp at shortstop and All-Conference performer Jessica Thornton.

Georgia College and State University made its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009 after finishing second in the Peach Belt Conference standings and a 32-24 overall record. For 2010, the Bobcats will have to replace two-time Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year Sherquita Bostick and Mandy Chandler, who holds the Peach Belt Conference career marks for wins and strikeouts.

Returning is All-Conference catcher Anna Parker who hit seven home runs last year and infielder Kayla Smith, who hit three homers in the NCAA Tournament.

Several changes are in store for the 2010 season including the addition of Flagler College, coached by Kristen Overton who played for four years at North Florida, winning two Peach Belt Conference titles.

The Peach Belt Conference Tournament format has also changed, with only the top eight teams advancing to the championship April 16-18 in Florence, S.C.

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