Jan 30, 2013 4:42 PM
The University of Kentucky softball team is receiving votes in both major preseason polls, earning 20 votes in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 and 23 votes in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25, it was released recently.
Kentucky, which is led by sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson, ended the 2012 season receiving votes in both polls. This is the third consecutive year the Wildcats have been ranked or receiving votes in both preseason polls. Last season, UK was ranked top-20 in both preseason polls before receiving votes in both polls prior to the 2011 season.
The Wildcats are one of nine teams in the Southeastern Conference to begin the season in the preseason top 25 or receiving votes. Alabama, the defending national champions, are ranked at the top of each listing, while Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia, LSU, Florida and Texas A&M earned top-20 spots in each poll. Kentucky and Mississippi State are the two schools that are receiving votes in each ranking.
UK will be battle-tested throughout the rankings, playing 14 teams that are either ranked or receiving votes in both preseason listings. In all, the Wildcats will play 25 of their 56 regular-season games against teams currently in the top 25. On top of playing SEC foes No. 1/1 Alabama, No. 7/8 Missouri, No. 10/12 LSU, No. 14/15 Florida and Mississippi State (rv/rv), the Wildcats will square off against non-conference ranked foes No. 2/2 Oklahoma, No. 3/3 California, No. 4/4 Arizona State, No. 10/12 USF, No. 16/16 Washington, No. 18/18 Louisville, No. 20/21 Stanford, No. 21/22 North Carolina and Oregon State (rv/rv).
Lawson and Co. are coming off their fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament, ranking as one of 27 teams nationally to claim that honor. Last season, UK was 30-30 overall and a school-record tying 15-13 in conference play. The Wildcats won a school-best six SEC series last season, taking down Auburn, South Carolina, Georgia, Ole Miss, Florida and LSU.
Kentucky has knocked off 10 or more ranked foes each of the last two seasons, the first time in school history that had been accomplished in back-to-back years. During the Lawson tenure, UK has defeated 31 top-25 teams, including 19 top-10 teams. Several of the national powers UK will face this season it has already downed under Lawson, including Alabama, Arizona State, California, Florida and LSU.
The Wildcats return several key pieces from last year's squad. Senior infielder Kara Dill, who has earned All-SEC second-team honors each of the last two seasons, returns to the squad after leading Kentucky in batting average last season, while junior pitcher Lauren Cumbess paced the 2012 team in ERA. UK also returns the veteran leadership of senior outfielder Alice O'Brien, who finished fourth on the team in batting average, and sophomore Griffin Joiner, who earned All-SEC Freshman Team honors last season, finishing third on the team in batting average.
The SEC Tournament will be hosted by the University of Kentucky this season, marking the first time the school has hosted the event. All games will be played at the newly renovated UK Softball Complex. Ticket information for the tournament will be released in early February on UKathletics.com.