Softball picked to finish 10th in A-Sun Preseason Poll
The JU softball team was given a potential ceiling for the 2009 season as the Dolphins were picked to finish 10th in the Atlantic Sun Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll.

USC Upstate took the top spot with 112 points and six first place votes followed by Florida Gulf Coast with 107 points and four first place votes. Stetson, who was picked to win the conference tournament, was selected third (91) followed by Kennesaw State (77) and Lipscomb (75) to make up the rest of the top five. Mercer, Campbell, UNF, East Tennessee State, JU and Belmont rounded out the rest of the poll.

“As a team, we know where we stand in the eyes of the conference,” said JU head coach Amanda Lehotak. “Our goal this year is to show that we are better than years past. If we can stay healthy, I think we can accomplish our goal of qualifying for the conference tournament.”

Despite the low selection, the Dolphins are primed for a solid season. JU returns 13 players from the 2008 squad, which had a six-win improvement against teams like Florida State, Minnesota and Georgia Southern.

The Dolphins parlayed that success into the fall where they produced the program’s first flawless preseason with an 8-0 mark. During that stretch, JU hit .312 (69-221) with 42 runs scored, 28 RBI and 17 doubles. The Dolphins posted a 1.60 ERA in the circle during 57 innings of work with 46 strikeouts and had four complete-game efforts.

Junior shortstop Shannon Monahan was the squad’s leading hitter in the fall after batting .500 (15-30) with seven doubles, three triples, 10 RBI and six runs scored. Junior Ashley Iveson led the Dolphin pitchers with three wins and no earned runs in 19.1 innings.

“We are more balanced across the board this year compared to last season,” said Lehotak. We have more depth in the infield, can hit for power and we are more athletic. I think the most important improvement is our mental belief that we can win.

“I spent a lot of time last year trying to convince the team that they can compete and win. After winning this fall, something finally clicked because we are entering the year more relaxed and not afraid to be successful. It has been really fun to watch. I believe if we stay confident through the ups and downs of a long season that this will be a very successful year for our program. “

The Dolphins’ open their seventh season of action on Feb. 6 against Auburn and Texas A&M-CC at the FIU Combat Classic in Miami, Fla. JU will also play Louisville, North Carolina and the host Panthers in the three-day tournament before hosting No. 1 Florida in the home opener on Feb. 11.