NEW ORLEANS The Sun Belt Conference released its preseason softball poll and All-Conference honorees Monday, as the Western Kentucky University softball team was picked to finish third while a trio of Lady Toppers were named All-SBC selections.
Highlighting the release is senior second baseman Olivia Watkins named as the league’s Preseason Player of the Year. Watkins along with senior pitcher Emily Rousseau and junior third baseman Preslie Cruce were named to the Preseason All-SBC list.
WKU looks to build off of last year’s success, as the Lady Toppers took their first-ever SBC Championship with a 20-3 league record while a 43-18 overall record led them to their first-ever NCAA Championship appearance.
Watkins is coming off an impressive season in which she was named to the NFCA All-Region First Team, the Sun Belt All-Conference First Team and Sun Belt Conference All-Tournament Team. She ranked 19th in the nation in stolen bases per game with 0.62 average and led the conference with 38 stolen bases. The Florence, Ala., native led the team with a .378 batting average, 49 runs scored, 73 hits and three triples in 2013. Watkins also led the team with 22 multi-hit games, including a pair of games with four hits and six games with three hits.
Rousseau is the reigning SBC Pitcher of the Year after having a stellar junior campaign that saw her tab 25 wins, including six over ranked opponents. The Greenwood, La., product was named NFCA All-Region Second Team, All-Conference First Team as well as to the all-tournament team at the SBC Tournament. Rousseau led the team while ranking in the top 10 of the league in virtually every category, including her 227.1 innings pitched, 220 strikeouts and 1.94 ERA.
Cruce was a staple at the hot corner for the Lady Toppers, starting all 61 games on her way to Second-Team All-SBC honors. She led the team with 10 doubles, three triples, 14 home runs, .634 slugging percentage and a .431 on-base percentage. Originally from Empire, Ala., Cruce recorded a hit in 14-straight league games and in 18 of 23 SBC contests. The junior is WKU’s all-time hit by pitch leader, as she had a team-high 19 last season.
WKU begins the 2014 campaign on Friday, Feb. 7 at the Florida Gulf Coast/Four Points by Sheraton Invitational in Ft. Myers, Fla. The Lady Toppers take on Liberty at 9 a.m. before facing Ole Miss later on Friday.