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The Lakeland College softball team has been picked to finish sixth in the Northern Athletics Conference preseason coaches' poll released Tuesday.
The Muskies, who finished fifth last season with a 14-10 NAC record, 15-26 overall, totaled 105 points.
"I don't put a lot of stock into the preseason rankings," said head coach Chad Buchmann. "Last year we surprised some teams and were one out away from a 2011 NAC Championship game. We return seven of our nine starters from last spring, and I think we're going to surprise more teams again this season. We're preparing to win, and it's not where we start, but where we finish."
Defending NAC champion Benedictine University was tabbed to finish first with 10 first-place votes and 166 points, 10 points ahead of second-place Aurora University. The Spartans received two first-place votes and totaled 156 points, while Concordia University Wisconsin received the final first-place vote and 145 points.
Buchmann, entering his eighth season, led Lakeland to its fifth-straight NAC Tournament and has hopes of competing atop the conference in 2012.
The Muskies return four All-NAC players, including senior Leah Sheahan, juniors Heather Haeflinger and Jenny LaLuzerne and sophomore Sammy Rieder. LaLuzerne returns as the team's leading hitter with a .424 batting average and a .586 slugging percentage.
As a team, Lakeland was second in the NAC in triples (11) third in doubles (80) and fourth in home runs (16).
The 2012 NAC Tournament is May 3-5 at Alverno Field in Milwaukee, with the tournament winner earning the conference's automatic bid to the 2012 NCAA III Championship Tournament. The top six teams in the standings qualify for the conference tournament.
2012 Northern Athletics Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll
1. Benedictine (10), 166
2. Aurora (2), 156
3. Concordia Wisconsin (1), 145
4. Dominican, 124
5. Concordia Chicago, 109
6. Lakeland, 105
7. Marian, 88
8. Edgewood, 80
9. Wisconsin Lutheran, 61
10. Alverno, 55
11. Rockford, 46
12. MSOE, 33
13. Maranatha, 15
first-place votes in parentheses
voted by the conference's 13 head coaches
13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 point scale used