In the first year of the league's division format, the Gamecocks received 21 of the 24 first-place votes in the six-team East, and were not eligible to receive JSU's two votes. Defending champion UT Martin was selected just ahead of Eastern Illinois to win the West Division, also comprised of six teams.
“It's always nice to earn the respect of your peers,” head coach Jana McGinnis said of the preseason poll. “Competing for championships is where we expect to be as a program, but we don't put any emphasis on preseason polls. We are just excited and eager to get the season started, and hope to be there at the end of the season. Our league will be very tough this season, and the new division format should make for an exciting year.”
JSU's 130 total points are ahead of Tennessee Tech (103) and Eastern Kentucky (99), respectively. TTU got one first-place vote, while the Colonels received the other. Morehead State (60), league newcomer Belmont (54) and Tennessee State (46) round out the East's predictions.
In the West Division, Murray State was picked third, ahead of SIUE, Southeast Missouri and Austin Peay.
The Gamecocks, who finished third in the league a year ago, return a pair of All-OVC performers in junior pitcher Tiffany Harbin and sophomore outfielder Sara Borders.
Harbin missed the first month of the season with a hand injury but stormed back to post a 17-10 record and a 2.41 earned run average. She led the OVC in strikeouts per seven innings with 7.0 and posted a 2.04 ERA in league play.
Borders was the Gamecocks' most consistent player as a freshman, boasting a team-best .320 average and 10 doubles in league play to claim All-OVC and OVC All-Newcomer honors in her freshman season. The team's leadoff hitter for much of the season, she hit .310 on the year and racked up 13 doubles, third-most in the OVC. She also drew 27 walks from the leadoff position, ranking in the top 10 in that category.
The Gamecocks also return senior experience in the field in Krystal Ruth and Kelci Johnston, while sophomore Savannah Sloan looks to build upon a freshman season that saw her hit .290 with a homer and 17 RBI. Senior Jessica Guy adds depth and experience in the outfield.
In the circle, Harbin leads the way but senior Hilary Phillips hopes to return to form after an arm injury limited her to just seven appearances in her junior season. Junior Savanna Hennings also is back for her third season in the circle, bringing even more experience to McGinnis' pitching staff.
McGinnis also welcomes a talented crop of newcomers to her program, featuring two highly decorated junior college players and a few prep standouts. Kalee Tabor is an infielder from Seminole State College that earned All-America and JUCO Player of the Year honors in the state of Florida after belting 17 home runs and driving in 65 runs as a sophomore.
Amanda Martinez is a first baseman that comes from Eastern Arizona College, where she was an all-region performer that hit 19 home runs and drove in 77 runs in 2012.
Cadi Oliver and Ella Denes highlight a group of four freshmen on this year's roster. Oliver was a four-time all-state performer from Sumiton Christian in Sumiton, Ala. She was the AHSAA Hitter of the Year in Class 3A as a sophomore and junior before earning the same honor in Class 2A as a senior. She set the state record for hits in a season with 122 in her senior year.
Denes was also a four-time all-state player for Pisgah High School in Pisgah, Ala. She was a career .489 hitter with 34 home runs and 237 career RBI. She is the state record holder for career runs scored with 364 and is second all-time with 460 career hits. She is also in the top 10 in the state record books in career walks, doubles, RBI and home runs.
The Gamecocks open a renovated University Field on Feb. 19 against Alabama A&M. The stadium, which is being constructed around the same playing field the Gamecocks have been on since 1996, will feature seating for more than 550 fans, including chair back seating. The project will also include a state of the art pressbox, with radio booths and also an overflow media workspace with video capabilities.
The lower level of the new press box will include a new concession stand, new public restrooms and other storage areas. The stadium will also include a new plaza entrance for fans and guests.
The Gamecocks open the season on Feb. 8, when they take on St. Louis and Louisiana Tech in the first day of the Lion Classic at Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond, La.
The first event in the new stadium will be the program's annual JSU Softball Fan Day, which will be on Sunday, Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. at University Field. The renovated facility will be dedicated at the beginning of the event, which will be free to all fans.
Below is the complete OVC Preseason Poll:
2013 OVC SOFTBALL PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
(as voted on by the league's head softball coaches and sports information directors)
1. Jacksonville State (21 first-place vote) - 130
2. Tennessee Tech (Two first-place votes) - 103
3. Eastern Kentucky (One first-place vote) - 99
4. Morehead State - 60
5. Belmont - 54
6. Tennessee State - 46
1. UT Martin (14 first-place votes) - 119
2. Eastern Illinois (Six first-place votes) - 111
3. Murray State (Three first-place votes) - 94
4. SIUE - 71
5. Southeast Missouri (One first-place vote) - 61
6. Austin Peay - 30
(*Schools were not allowed to rank their own team. 6 points awarded for a first-place vote, five for second, etc.)