01/20/10 — Trojans tabbed No. 1 in league

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Trojans tabbed No. 1 in league

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on January 20, 2010 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- A testament, but also a reminder.

That's how Mount Olive College head softball coach Jaime Kylis-Higginbotham views the No. 1 preseason ranking accorded her team by fellow Conference Carolinas peers.

"It is a testament to how hard my girls have worked in the past (last season) and is a reminder that we still have a lot of work to do," said Higginbotham.

The Trojans received just one first-place vote and five more points than defending tournament champion Queens University-Charlotte, which earned first-place recognition from four coaches. Pfeiffer University, the 2008 league champion, was picked third in the 11-team league.

Rounding out the poll were reigning regular-season champion Limestone (three first-place votes), Coker, Erskine (one first-place vote), Barton, Anderson, St. Andrews, Lees-McRae and Belmont Abbey.

Prior to the rankings' release, Higginbotham met with her pitching staff and said the No. 1 billing was due to their efforts in the circle last spring. Mount Olive logged a 25-18-1 record and ended up No. 9 in the final Division II Southeast Region poll.

Pitchers Kristin Ware, Sasha Snyder and Sarah Saunders combined for 20 victories in 2009. The trio compiled an earned run average under 2.30 and combined for five of the team's seven shutouts.

Snyder was a second-team, all-conference pick last season.

"All of our top pitchers are returning, so being deep in the bullpen is definitely a reason to get excited," said Higginbotham. "Another reason: they are putting in quality practices that are goal-oriented. I can't ask for anything more."

All-conference shortstop Kelly Minshew returns after ranking among the nation's leaders with 15 doubles and posting a .950 fielding average. Third baseman Allison Czerski flirted with a .300 batting average and grabbed a spot on the all-tournament squad.

Mount Olive is the lone Conference Carolinas team to finish in the top three in both regular-season and tournament action each of the past three seasons. The Trojans won regular-season crowns in 1997 and 2007, and emerged the tournament runners-up in 2008.