The University of North Georgia softball team has been named the favorite to win the Peach Belt Conference title for the fifth straight year as selected by the conference coaches. The preseason poll was released by the conference office Monday afternoon.
The Saints claimed four first-place votes, six second-place votes and one third-place vote to finish with 113 total points, 11 more than second-place Flagler College which also received four first-place nods.
Rounding out the top-five were Armstrong Atlantic State University and Columbus State University tied for third and the University of South Carolina Aiken in fifth. Augusta State University was chosen sixth while Francis Marion University, Georgia College, Lander University and the University of North Carolina Pembroke were chosen seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th respectively. Georgia Southwestern State University and Young Harris College rounded out the voting.
"Our program is honored to have the respect of the Peach Belt Conference but we also understand that championships are not won in January," said head coach Mike Davenport. "Preseason polls are great for the fans of Division II softball but I think all the teams are excited to get onto the field of play and prove themselves through competition.
"We understand and appreciate the parity in the PBC and this season looks to be no different," Davenport continued. "Last year we saw three different champions between the conference regular season, tournament and NCAA regional and I don't see this year playing out any differently."
The Saints finished the 2012 season ranked No. 10 in the nation with a record of 49-10. It was the fourth straight year North Georgia finished with at 40 or more wins and finished in the top-10 in the nation. The Saints also finished the season by hosting the NCAA Southeast Regionals for the fourth year in a row and advanced to their fifth straight NCAA Division II tournament appearance.
North Georgia returns four starting infielders, three outfielders with extensive experience and two pitchers including 2012 PBC Freshman of the Year Melissa Dickie. Davenport also brought into the fold 10 newcomers.
The 2013 season will begin this weekend with the Saints traveling to Columbus, Ga. for the Peach Belt Conference-Sunshine State Conference (SSC) Challenge, the first cross-conference event featuring four teams from both the PBC and SSC to kick off the season. The tournament will last from Saturday, Feb. 2 through Sunday, Feb. 3.
From there, North Georgia will play in four more early season tournaments, including hosting the North Georgia