Feb. 13, 1997
Notre Dame and UConn Preseason Favorites
The University of Notre Dame and the University of Connecticut were unanimously chosen to win their respective divisional titles in the 1997 BIG EAST Softball race. By a vote of the league's head coaches, both UConn and the Fighting Irish received seven first-place votes for 28 points. The Huskies, last year's BIG EAST tournament champions, are expected to win the North Division, while ND is the favorite in the South Division.
Connecticut has won six of the last seven BIG EAST tournaments and defeated the Irish, 1-0, in last year's title game. The Huskies advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in the past eight years. UConn finished the 1996 season 34-22 overall and 16-4 in conference action. The Huskies return the tournament's Most Outstanding Player and the 1996 BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year, Bridgett McCaffery, and BIG EAST Co-Rookie of the Year, Allyson Johnson.
Picked to finish second in the North Division is Boston College with 22 points, including one first-place vote. BC closed the '96 season 27-19 overall and 9-11 in the league. Providence, which advanced to the BIG EAST championship last year, garnered 16 points for a preseason finish of third. Rounding out the North Division is St. John's with 10 points. The Red Storm will be under the direction of new head coach Kim Staehle.
Notre Dame ended it's inaugural year in the BIG EAST with a 19-1 conference record, 48-16 overall. The Irish claimed their first ever at-learge bid to the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Liz Miller, the 1996 BIG EAST Coach of the Year, returns '96 BIG EAST Player of the Year Meghan Murray and Co-Rookie of the Year Angela Bessolo.
Rutgers, also new to the conference last season, was picked to finish second in the South Division. RU is coming off a 26-20 season, 10-10 in the BIG EAST. The Scarlet Knights received 20 points in the preseason poll. Villanova advanced to the 1996 BIG EAST Championship and finished with a 30-19 record, 10-8 in the league. The Wildcats garnered one first-place vote for 18 points. Seton Hall, under the direction of first-year coach Ray Vandermay, received 10 points to close out the South Division.
The teams will continue their 20-game schedule this season, playing divisional opponents four times each and non-divisional opponents twice. The BIG EAST Softball Championship will be held on May 3-4 at the Connecticut Softball Field on the University of Connecticut campus. The tournament champion will receive the conference's automatic bid to the 1997 NCAA Tournament.
1997 BIG EAST Softball Preseason Poll
No. Team (first-place votes) Pts.
1. Connecticut (7) 28
2. Boston College (1) 22
3. Providence 16
4. St. John's 10
1. Notre Dame 28
2. Rutgers 20
3. Villanova (1) 18
4. Seton Hall 10