WINTER PARK, Fla.—The 2013 Sunshine State Conference softball pre-season poll has a real 2012 feel to it. Every team in the poll is ranked in exactly the same spot they finished last year.
Tampa was selected as the favorite to win the SSC softball title for the second consecutive year, though only five points separated the teams chosen to finish first through third in a poll conducted among the league’s head softball coaches.
Tampa received 59 points and five first-place votes. Rollins was picked to finish second, collecting 57 points and two first-place votes. Barry occupied the third spot with 54 points and the remaining two first-place nods.
Florida Southern was tabbed to finish fourth and garnered 44 points. Nova Southeastern took the fifth slot with 34 points. Just six points shy of the Sharks was Florida Tech in sixth with 28 points. Nipping at the Panthers’ heels was Saint Leo in seventh with 25 points.
Eckerd (15) and Lynn (8) rounded out the poll.
All three of the teams clustered at the top of the poll will look to fill holes left by the departures of significant players.
A year ago, Tampa won the SSC title with a 37-8 overall record and a 21-3 conference mark. But gone from that squad is a pair of all-conference seniors, including SSC Pitcher of the Year Deanna Henriott and first-team catcher Becky Vyzas.
Kayla Cox, also a first-team pitcher, returns to lead the Spartans. A junior, Cox posted a 16-2 record with a league-best 0.34 ERA last spring. She also led the SSC by limiting her opponents to a .103 batting average en route to 13 shutouts.
Meagan Burke, the SSC Freshman of the year after her rookie season, also returns to pace the lineup. An all-conference second-team selection, Burke batted .306 with 24 RBI and 18 runs.
Rollins and Barry tied for second in the final league standings in 2012. The Tars notched a 43-11 overall record while Barry finished 40-11 overall as each compiled a 19-5 conference record.
Barry will need to replace four seniors who earned all-conference recognition last spring, including first-team picks outfielder Grace Collins, designated player Jessica Tabor and utility pitcher Brianna Smith, who led the league with 15 shutouts.
Leading the way among the Buccaneers’ returnees are seniors Sarah Broeseker (third base) and Natalia Ojeda (shortstop) who both earned All-SSC first-team recognition in 2012 after being second-team picks in 2011. Broeseker batted .329 with 28 RBI and 29 runs, leading the team with 14 doubles and four homers. Ojeda batted .319 with 17 RBI and 26 runs and led the team with 20 walks. Pitcher Alexis Yohe is also back for her senior year, after posting a 15-4 mark with a 1.53 ERA.
Rollins will need to replace five All-SSC seniors of its own, including SSC Player of the Year Monica Meadows.
Looking to provide experience for Rollins will be returning All-SSC first-teamer Aimee Halpin. A senior first-baseman, Halpin was stellar a year ago and ranked among the league leaders in most offensive statistical categories. Her .411 batting average was second in the conference, while her .488 on-base percentage was tops among SSC players. She also led the league with 35 stolen bases, drove in 26 RBI, and scored 52 runs.
Another key veteran for the Tars will be junior pitcher Amye McIntyre. McIntyre tallied a 15-4 record with a 1.38 ERA. Among her 15 wins were seven shutouts.
The Bucs open the season with a scrimmage against Northwood on Jan. 31, then play 17 straight games away from home.