JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville State softball team is receiving some recognition from both major preseason polls for the second-straight year, landing just outside of both Top 25 listsComplets.
The Gamecocks, who finished the 2009 season in both polls and as high as No. 21, were 27th in votes received in both the USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 and the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25. A year ago, the JSU received the 40th-most votes in both polls before putting together its most storied season in program history.
Jax State went on to win its second-straight Ohio Valley Conference regular season crown and its third in five seasons with a 46-13 record. The Gamecocks were 19-2 in league play before hosting the conference tournament. They received the OVC's first at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament and went on to win the Knoxville Regional before falling to Alabama in the Tuscaloosa Super Regional.
Head coach Jana McGinnis, who was named the OVC's Coach of the Year last season, returns for her 17th season at the helm of the Gamecocks' program, one that she has guided to OVC crowns in 2005, 2008 and 2009, including the school's first back-to-back NCAA Regional appearances.
In 2010, McGinnis and the Gamecocks have been picked to win the OVC crown again. They return six players that earned All-OVC honors a year ago, led by reigning Player of the Year Nikki Prier. A senior first baseman from Raleigh, N.C., Prier led the OVC in 2009 with a .379 batting average and ranked 10th nationally in doubles. She also led the league in RBI and total bases, while finishing second in home runs.
Also back for the Gamecocks are senior outfielders Chrissy O'Neal and Hillary Downs and junior pitcher Ashley Eliasson. O'Neal was a first-team All-OVC selection a year ago after hitting .364 with 10 home runs and a league-best 49 hits, while Downs and Eliasson each earned second team-honors. Downs hit .357 with eight home runs and 15 stolen bases in her first year after transferring from Central Alabama, while Eliasson posted and 18-8 record and a 1.72 earned run average as a sophomore a year ago.
Downs was also selected to the OVC's All-Newcomer Team, one that also featured freshmen Meredith Sellers and Allison Svoboda. Sellers hit .320 in league games, while Svoboda boasted a .311 average in OVC play.
Also in the mix this season will be a large group of newcomers. McGinnis has 11 new faces on this year's roster, a corps that is mixed with freshmen and transfers.
The Gamecocks, who began practice last week, will open the 2010 season on Feb. 13 at the Kennesaw State K-Club Classic in Kennesaw, Ga. Their first home game will be on Feb. 18, when future Ohio Valley Conference foe SIU-Edwardsville pays a visit to University Field. The team's annual Fan Day will be Feb. 7, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at University Field. The Gamecocks will be on hand, and free t-shirts, popcorn, drinks, games and other prizes will be given away. Admission to Fan Day and all of the Gamecocks' home games is free.