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Monday, July 14, 2008

FORT MYERS, Fla. - No team had more wins last season without making the NCAA tournament than Florida Gulf Coast. Picked to finish sixth in their first season in the Atlantic Sun, and ineligible for postseason play after making the leap to Division I, the Eagles tied for the regular-season title with a 16-6 conference mark, part of a 48-16 record.

NCAA tournament opponents may not get away quite so easily in the upcoming season.

The Eagles have some challenges to overcome if they're going to convert on their first opportunity to play in the postseason, namely replacing pitching ace Rachael Edinger. It was Edinger who threw a five-hit shutout against South Florida in one of Florida Gulf Coast's early-season surprise performances (a stretch that also included a 6-4 loss against Florida ace Stacey Nelson). But Morgan Campen enjoyed a successful freshman season as the team's de facto No. 2, and there is depth in rising senior Dana Frantz and two newcomers for next season. And it doesn't always take a shutout for the Eagles to win.

An offensive juggernaut in Division II, coach David Deiros' lineup adjusted rather adeptly to new surroundings, hitting .310 with a .908 OPS and averaging more than six runs per game. As the performance against Florida suggests -- one of the only times all season the Gators allowed four or more runs -- the Eagles can hit quality pitching. Losing Carmen Paez will be a blow, but Cheyenne Jenks ranked third in the nation with 73 RBIs and slugged .783 for the season. Fellow rising senior and Atlantic Sun first-teamer Jessica Paez added a 1.010 OPS to go with 22 stolen bases.

By Graham Hays
Special to ESPN.com