STARKVILLE, MS – The North Georgia softball team has been selected as the No. 2 team in the country according to the NFCA Division II Preseason Top 25 poll released on Wednesday morning.
The NFCA Division II Top 25 Poll is voted on by 16 NCAA Division II head coaches, two representing each of the eight NCAA regions. The first regular season poll will be released on Wednesday, February 16.
Valdosta State, who played in the National Championship game a year ago, returns 13 players and find themselves as the No. 1 team in the country, earning just two first-place votes but edging out North Georgia by 10 points.
The Saints, who won 51 straight games a year ago, return 12 players from last season and earned four first-place votes, giving them 373 total points for the No. 2 spot in the land. North Georgia has appeared in the nation's top 25 for every week of the last two seasons, including spending 10 of those 20 weeks as the No. 1 team in the country.
Hawaii Pacific received the remaining 10 first-place votes after capturing the National Championship trophy last May in St. Joseph, Missouri, and they will open the 2011 campaign as the No. 3 team in the country.
Bloomsburg and Wayne State out of Michigan round out the top five, while West Texas A&M, Wayne State (NE), Angelo State, Nebraska Omaha, and Alabama-Huntsville will open the year in the top-10.
North Georgia will once again play one of the toughest schedules in the country with five games against the top-5 teams in the land, and eight contests against teams ranked in the Preseason Top-25.
The Saints are set to host one of the most competitive tournaments in the country the second week of March, playing host to Valdosta State and Alabama-Huntsville as the top two teams in the land and three teams ranked in the Top 10 will go head-to-head. North Georgia will play two games against the Blazers and Chargers over the weekend, preparing for Peach Belt Conference play to start the following week.
Armstrong Atlantic is the only other Peach Belt Conference team ranked in the Preseason Top 25, coming in at No. 22 after earning a Southeast Regional at-large bid a year ago. The Pirates will come to Dahlonega on April 9, with a key PBC doubleheader set to start at 3:00 p.m. at Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium.
Head coach Mike Davenport's squad has put together a 101-7 record the last two seasons, including 51 straight wins a year ago, a mark that sits second all-time in the history of NCAA softball. In PBC play, the Saints have been equally impressive, posting a 20-0 record last season in league action, while going 37-1 over the last two years.
The Saints return six starters from last season's championship squad, including third-team All-American Katherine Martin who returns for her sophomore after hitting .375 with five home runs, a team-high 12 doubles, and 25 runs batted in.
All-American and National Pitcher of the Year Sarah Phillips will take the circle for her senior season after a 44-2 record in 2010, including an earned run average of 1.00 with 294 strikeouts in 300.0 innings of work. The two-time PBC Pitcher of the year, holds the Peach Belt's all-time record for wins in a career with 103, and consecutive wins with 44.
North Georgia will travel to the Aiken Early Bird Tournament this weekend in Aiken, SC, where they are set to play four games in two days. The Saints will take on Erskine College and Barton College on Saturday, followed by games against the University of Charleston and Chowan University on Sunday.