FORT MYERS, Fla. - The 2009 version of the FGCU softball team will begin its quest for the program's second consecutive A-Sun Championship Friday when it starts play at the USF Louisville Slugger Tournament in Tampa, Fla. FGCU will begin the tournament with games Friday against Illinois State (Noon) and Minnesota (6 p.m.), followed by Saturday matchups against UNC-Greensboro (3:30 p.m.) and North Florida (8 p.m.). The Eagles will wrap up the tournament at 1:30 p.m. Sunday against tournament host USF.
The Eagles were picked second in the preseason Atlantic Sun Conference Coaches' Poll, after earning the No. 6 preseason spot prior to the start of the 2008 season. Two Eagles, senior shortstop Jessica Paez and senior third baseman Cheyenne Jenks, earned preseason All A-Sun honors. Jenks, in addition to being selected to the preseason list, was named the Preseason Player of the Year. During her junior year, she was named to the NFCA Southeast All-Region First Team, hit .398 with 16 homeruns and a .738 slugging percentage, and finished the season with 73 RBI, which set a new A-Sun record and ranked her tied-3rd in the nation.
FGCU will be facing three opponents – Illinois State, UNC-Greensboro and Minnesota - that it has never competed against before. The Eagles own a 2-0 record all-time against tournament host USF, while FGCU’s all-time series against A-Sun foe UNF is tied, 1-1.
The Tournament Field
The host South Florida Bulls, regular season champions of the BIG EAST a year ago, are receiving votes in the preseason NFCA poll. Senior Cristi Ecks is the Bulls’ leading returning pitcher while 2008 All-BIG EAST honorees Britta Giddens and JoJa Medina anchor USF at the plate.
Illinois State rode a 17-7 league record to a second place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference last year. The Redbirds are led by junior infielder Kara Nelson, who hit .401 during her sophomore season last year. Senior Amber Smith was ISU’s best pitcher last season, going 14-9-2 with 108 strikeouts and a 2.10 ERA in 157 innings a year ago.
This weekend’s tournament is also the first competition of the season for UNC-Greensboro. The Spartans, who were tabbed fifth in the Southern Conference preseason coaches’ poll, are led by senior pitcher Hannah Angel. Angel is a first-team All-SoCon preseason pick who went 12-14 with a 2.46 ERA for a UNC-Greensboro team that posted a 23-33 record in 2008.
FGCU will also face Minnesota and UNF during the tournament. UNF’s senior catcher Ashley Battaglia and pitcher Devyn Findley earned All A-Sun Preseason honors, while Minnesota finished the 2008 season with a 29-16 record, marking its best winning percentage since 2002.