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STARKVILLE, MS – The North Georgia softball team will start the season as one of the top three teams in the country for the third straight year, as the Saints are ranked No. 3 in the NFCA Division II Preseason Top 25 Poll released on Wednesday afternoon.
UC San Diego (45-13) will begin its defense of the 2011 national title as the No. 1 team in the land after receiving all 16 first-place votes. After finishing as the national runner-up two of the last three years, Alabama-Huntsville (48-6-1) is No. 2 in the nation.
North Georgia will start their 2012 campaign as the No. 3 team in the land as they run their streak of consecutive weeks ranked in the nation's top five to 31, dating back to March 11, 2009, when the Saints rounded out the top five.
The Saints are the only team in the country to appear in each of the last three Division II National Championships, as they will look to continue their dynasty with a fourth straight appearance in 2012.
Rounding out the top five in the poll were Saginaw Valley at No. 4 and West Texas A&M at No. 5. Arkansas-Monticello (46-16) had the biggest gain from the final 2011 poll, jumping 12 spots from 24th to 12th, while Cal State Chico followed behind with a 10 spot jump, moving from the "receiving votes" category to 15th.
Armstrong Atlantic is the only other Peach Belt Conference institution ranked in the poll, jumping into the rankings at No. 21 after receiving votes in the final poll of 2011.
The road back to the national stage will be tested early and often for the Saints who will play seven games against teams ranked in the preseason top 25 poll, including three games against 2nd-ranked Alabama-Huntsville. North Georgia is also slated to play 9th-ranked Lenoir-Rhyne, a team the Saints have eliminated in the NCAA Southeast Super Regional each of the last two years.
The Saints will also go head-to-head with 11th-ranked Rollins College in at the UAH Charger Chillout, before traveling to No. 21 Armstrong Atlantic for a Peach Belt Conference doubleheader in Savannah, Georgia, the second week in March.
For the second straight year North Georgia returns the Division II National Pitcher of the Year, as Jessica Coan will take the circle for her senior campaign in 2012. Coan went 27-5 with a 1.09 earned run average a year ago and tallied 25 complete games with 334 strikeouts in just 218.1 innings of work.
The Saints have plenty of veteran bats to rely on as well with seniors Hilary Cox and Pilar Harden leading the charge offensively. The senior duo combined to hit 25 home runs a year ago and drive in 93 runs.
The defense is led at first base by 2010 All-American Katherine Martin who committed just one error a year ago in 403 chances for a .998 fielding percentage. The junior has had plenty of success at the plate as well over the last two years with 11 home runs, 24 doubles and a combined .343 batting average.
Head coach Mike Davenport is at the helm of the Saints for his 13th season, as the three-time Southeast Region Coach of the Year looks to lead North Georgia to its fourth straight 50-win season.
In North Georgia's rise to one of the perennial powers in the country, the Saints have put together a record of 154-19 over the last three years, including three straight trips to the Division II College World Series. The Saints have also dominated the Peach Belt Conference with three straight regular season and tournament championships, having won 12 consecutive PBC Tournament games to capture those titles.
The Saints will put their No. 3 ranking to the test on February 11-12, when they play host to Tusculum, North Greenville and Bellarmine University at Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium in the Loyal Blue Classic.