DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The University of South Carolina Beaufort softball team was picked to repeat as Sun Conference champions in voting by the league's nine head coaches, the conference announced Friday.
The Sand Sharks claimed five first-place votes and 57 total points to edge St. Thomas (two first-place votes, 48 points) for the top spot. Second-year program Embry-Riddle came in third with 45 points and received the other first-place vote. Southeastern and Thomas tied for fourth with 43 points, followed by Webber International (28), Warner (24), Ave Maria (19) and Northwood (17).
USCB finished 43-6 overall and 14-2 in conference play a year ago and was ranked 11th in the final national poll after reaching the championship game of the NAIA National Championship Opening Round.
First-year head coach Laura Heberling takes over the USCB program after serving as assistant coach for the team's first two seasons of existence. Heberling returns her top three pitchers from a staff that posted a 2.28 ERA, as well as seven starting position players and several key reserves. The Sand Sharks also added four freshmen who will compete for starting jobs.
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The Sand Sharks open their season at home with a doubleheader against St. Andrews University at 1 p.m. on Feb. 1.
The Sun Conference Tournament is set for May 1-3 at the National Training Center in Clermont, Fla., and the NAIA National Championship Opening Rounds are scheduled for May 12-14, with the winners advancing to the NAIA National Championship from May 23-29 in Columbus, Ga.
2014 Sun Conference Softball Preseason Poll
As voted on by the league's head coaches (First-place votes in parentheses):
1. USC Beaufort (5) 57
2. St. Thomas (2) 48
3. Embry-Riddle (1) 45
4. Southeastern 43
4. Thomas 43
6. Webber International 28
7. Warner 24
8. Ave Maria 19
9. Northwood 17