The USA South Athletic Conference's softball coaches have released their 2018 preseason polls. LaGrange was fifth in the West Division poll.
Each divisional preseason poll only includes votes from coaches within that particular division-only. Head coaches do not vote for their own teams in the balloting. Additionally, the conference welcomes new league members Berea College, Brevard College, and Pfeiffer University. Brevard and Pfeiffer will not be included in the polls as they are each reclassifying from Division II and are not eligible championship honors this season.
The Panthers are starting their 16th season under head coach Jennifer Claybrook. LC has 20 returning players from the 2017 season. Junior catcher Emily Barrs was a first team All-Conference selection last season. Barrs led the team in most of the hitting categories, including batting average (.469), slugging percentage (.796),home runs (7), and RBIs (28). Sophomores McKenzie Brunel and Katlin Richardson were on the West Division first team. Brunel batted .368, while Richardson had a .325 average. The Panthers return their top five hitters and sophomore pitcher Chelsea Twardoski (10-13, 3.05 ERA).
Piedmont College, the defending USA South West Division co-champion, was picked to win the West Division title. Piedmont received 48 total points and six first place votes. Maryville College placed second in the poll with 39 points and one first place vote. Huntingdon College was third with 34 points and the final first place vote, followed by Covenant College (32 points), and LC (31points). Berea (17 points), Wesleyan College (12 points), and Agnes Scott College (11 points) rounded out the poll.
Meredith College is the East Division favorite and the returning champion. Averett University, the defending USA South Tournament Champions, was second to Meredith. Ferrum College, Salem College, William Peace University, N.C. Wesleyan College, Greensboro College, Methodist University, and Mary Baldwin University completed the East Division poll.
The softball regular season gets underway on Friday, Feb. 2 as Covenant is the lone conference team in action. The Panthers open their season at home Feb. 14 with a doubleheader against Belhaven.
The 2018 USA South Softball Tournament will feature the top-six teams from each division and begins on the weekend of April 6-8. The top-three seeds from each division will host best-of-three series. The winners of those series will advance to a six-team double-elimination tournament which will be played April 13-15 at the Shuford Softball Complex in LaGrange, Georgia as a part of the USA South Spring Sports Festival, hosted by the City of LaGrange and Troup County.