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The Lakeland College softball team is picked to finish second in the Northern Athletics Conference this season according to the preseason coaches' poll, as the results were announced Wednesday.
The Muskies received four first place votes to finish with 156 points behind Aurora University, who received eight first place votes for 164 points. Marian College was picked to finish third behind Lakeland with 140 points while Edgewood College received the remaining first place vote to take the No. 4 spot with 130 points.
Despite his returning talent of six experienced seniors along with two sophomores who were All-NAC selections last season, Lakeland head coach Chad Buchmann was somewhat taken aback by the poll's results.
"I'm surprised we got that many first place votes," Buchmann said. "Aurora only lost one game in conference last year, and it was to us. Traditionally, most people would go with the team who only has one loss, so to get four votes was surprising. But, with six seniors and two sophomores who were all-conference players last year, that gives us a lot of experience with girls that have performed well in the past and it puts us in a position to be ranked pretty high."
It seems fitting that the Muskies are projected to have a successful season in 2008, as the squad lost only one senior for last year's team that went 18-4 in the NAC (27-12 overall). Returning pitcher Sara Roberts (Escanaba, Mich./Escanaba), last year's NAC Rookie of the Year, will continue to be a major asset to the Muskies as she compiled a 19-7 record and 1.67 ERA in 29 appearances last year. She also pitched a perfect game and two additional no-hitters in her debut season.
The Muskies also return two other All-NAC players in senior right fielder Rebecca Schuettpelz (Kaukauna) and sophomore second baseman KC Blahnik (Gladstone, Mich./Gladstone) in addition to Roberts. Schuettpelz led the Muskies at the plate last year with a 45.5 percent batting average and a 50 percent on-base percentage. She also hit three home runs and had 31 RBI. Blahnik, who was also a member of the NAC All-Rookie Team, led the team in triples with seven and hit 44.2 percent in her inaugural season.
Senior honorable mention All-NAC selections Kourtney Peters, third base (Mishicot), and Allison Lock, first base (Green Bay/East), also return to give the squad's batting even more of a boost, as Lock blasted a team-high six home runs last year while Peters hit four.
"I told the girls that we definitely have to do something in conference this year," said Buchmann, who will look to find a way to use his loaded roster to snag the program's first NAC title. "We have to prove that we should be ranked up there in the conference and not just finish second two years in a row."
To do that, the Muskies will certainly have to get past Aurora, which they were able to do last year in a 6-5 home victory to hand the Spartans their solo NAC loss of the season. However, the Spartans still return much of their strength from a team that finished with a 35-8 overall record last season with a 21-1 conference mark. Aurora also returns the 2007 NAC Player of the Year, Dana Cebular, who led the conference in hitting with a .483 average, which included 10 homeruns and 38 RBI. Also returning are three other All-NAC members, Nicole Capone, Nikki Veen and Abby Young.
Marian wrapped up its 2007 season with a 16-6 NAC mark and went 24-14 overall while Edgewood was the runner-up to Aurora in the NAC Tournament and finished with a record of 24-18, 14-8 NAC.
The complete Northern Athletics Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll follows:
2008 NAC Preseason Poll
1. Aurora University (8) 164
2. Lakeland College (4) 156
3. Marian College 140
4. Edgewood College (1) 130
5. Benedictine University 118
6. Concordia University, Wis. 107
7. Wisconsin Lutheran College 94
8. Dominican University 59
Rockford College 59
10. Alverno College 54
11. Concordia University Chicago 50
12. Milwaukee School of Engineering 27
13. Maranatha Baptist Bible College 25