WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - The University of Saint Joseph softball team was chosen to finish eighth this season in the annual Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Preseason Coaches' Poll as announced by the league's front office on Thursday afternoon. The Blue Jays will open up the 2017 season at the Fastpitch Dreams Classic on March 16, as they take on Alfred State at 1:30 p.m. at the North Myrtle Beach Sports Complex in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Johnson & Wales was predicted to finish as the top team in the conference, receiving 140 total points and 10 of the 12 first place votes from the league's head coaches. The Wildcats were followed by Suffolk who garnered 131 points and the remaining two first place votes, while Emmanuel was picked third with 109 poll points.
Saint Joseph's of Maine and Albertus Magnus were slotted fourth and fifth earning 102 and 90 points, respectively. They were followed by Norwich in sixth with 87 points and Simmons in seventh with 78 points.
The Blue Jays were tabbed eighth with 67 points ahead of Mount Ida (50), Lasell (35), Rivier (30) and Anna Maria (17) to round out the 12-team poll.
USJ is coming off one of its most successful seasons in recent memory after they finished runner-up in the GNAC regular season standings a year ago with a record of 16-6 and held an overall record of 27-12 before being knocked out in the semifinal round of the GNAC Tournament. However, they did graduate four key seniors from last year's roster, including GNAC Pitcher and Player of the Year, Patti Sciglimpaglia.
The 2017 roster is very young as they do not have a senior on the staff, and will have to look for leadership from the three members of its junior class. Specifically, the captain of their infield junior shortstop Sarah Ercoli (East Granby, Conn.) who returns for her third season after finishing the 2016 campaign with a .336/.367/.344 slash line, 31 runs scored and was a GNAC second teamer.
USJ also returns sophomore Morgan Skoly (Vernon, Conn.) who is the leading returning hitter from last season after finishing third on the team with a .383 average, 23 runs scored and a team-best seven stolen bases. GNAC Third Team member, Kara Klimaszewski (Naugatuck, Conn.), also returns for her second season for the Blue Jays.
The USJ softball team will open up the season on March 16 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. against Alfred State at 1:30 p.m. in its first game of the Fastpitch Dreams Classic.