Despite a disappointing Missouri Valley Conference championship game loss last season, the Salukis were picked as co-favorites to win the 2013 Missouri Valley Conference Championship in the MVC Preseason Coaches Poll.
SIU finished last season with a 36-20 record but were no match against Illinois State, who hit three three-run home runs in the championship’s first three innings to beat the Salukis 13-3.
This season, however, SIU is tied with Illinois State for the top spot in the conference with two first-place votes each and 85 points overall.
Northern Iowa received 82 points to get a third-place ranking. Creighton notched three first-place votes and 80 points overall for fourth, and Drake’s 62 points overall rounds out the top five in a close vote among the teams.
Coach Kerri Blaylock said she agrees the conference’s top teams are all evenly matched, which made it hard for her to place her vote.
“Every team has its strengths,” Blaylock said.
Although it’s an honor for the coaches to consider the Salukis as a top team in the conference, Blaylock said, she only cares that they’re on top by the end of the season.
“I feel like a preseason poll is just that – a poll,” she said. “I don’t want to be in first place at the beginning of the season, I want to be in first at the end.”
Blaylock said every time the Salukis take the field it’s to win a conference championship and play
in the NCAA tournament. “Things may happen, things may
get in the way, but we want to try to get to the NCAA tournament,” she said. “That’s what you play for. We’re going to take it day by day, but that’s what we
want to do. SIU returns seven position starters
and three pitchers from last year’s team, as well as four players who were named to the preseason all-conference team. Junior first baseman Taylor Orsburn,
junior second baseman Jayna Spivey, junior catcher Allie VadeBoncouer and senior outfielder Morgan Barchan made the all-conference list.
This tied SIU with Creighton for the most players from one school to be voted
for preseason all-conference. Spivey started all 56 Salukis games
at second base, posted a .272 batting average and was second on the team with
34 RBIs. Last season she was also second-team all conference, made the MVC all-tournament team and was on the MVC scholar-athlete first-team.
Spivey said she expects to be more mature on the softball field this year, which is something she has already seen from teammates.
“Our pitchers are more mature now and our infield and everything,” she said. “I think that will help us come together as a team and get us through some tough situations.”
Senior pitcher Brittney Lang made 21 starts and went 11-7 with three saves last season. Lang posted a 3.77 ERA and threw nine complete games in 124.1 innings.
Lang said the team’s first opponents will bring a strong
challenge, but her main concern is how her team competes.
“As long as we don’t beat ourselves, I think we have a chance,” Lang said.
Both Spivey and Lang said the difference between this year’s team and past teams they’ve played on is the comfort level this year’s team has already exuded.
The two agreed this year’s team seems more relaxed, which is something Blaylock said she has also noticed with this year’s team.
“The thing that has been good about this team is that they’re a little bit looser,” Blaylock said. “They’re having some fun, and they have a little bit of character.”
The Salukis open their 2013 season Friday in Clermont, Fla. at the Dot Richardson Invitational.