Seahawks picked third in coaches' pre-season poll

Kara O'Riley and the Seahawks aim higher than the league's coaches prediction. (Original image by Ed Habershaw)
Kara O'Riley and the Seahawks aim higher than the league's coaches prediction. (Original image by Ed Habershaw)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The top-seed in last year's Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Softball Tournament, Western New England, claimed four of a possible 10 first place votes and 92 total points in the 2017 CCC Softball Preseason Coaches' Poll to be named the favorite in the upcoming season. Voting for the preseason poll was conducted by the 10 head softball coaches.

The Golden Bears finished 2016 with a 15-3 CCC (23-18 Overall) record to earn the top spot in the CCC Tournament and a chance to defend their 2015 conference title. However, losses to eventual championship contenders, Salve Regina and Roger Williams, eliminated them for title contention.

Endicott, the No. 2 seed in last year's CCC Championship Tournament, was selected second in the poll garnering 88 points, including three first place votes. Like the Golden Bears, the Gulls saw their tournament end a bit earlier than expected. The Gulls' two losses in the double-elimination format also came at the hands of Salve Regina and Roger Williams, both one-run defeats.

Reigning champion Salve Regina was selected third in the poll after claiming the CCC title as the No. 3 seed a year ago. The Seahawks earned 83 on this year's ballot, including two first place selections.

The Seahawks advanced to the 2016 championship round without a loss knocking off Eastern Nazarene, Endicott, and Western New England in the process. A 2-0 win over the Hawks earned Salve Regina the conference's automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division III Softball Championship.

Salve Regina was placed into the Medford Regional in the NCAA Tournament. It dropped a 4-3, extra-innings decision against WPI in its first contest before defeating Becker to stave off elimination. However, a 4-1 loss to Tufts ended the Seahawks national championship hopes.

First-year head coach Jannelle Iaquinto inherits a defending Commonwealth Coast Conference championship squad with winning experience at every position. The Seahawks senior class – Kelsey Boarman, Nikki Bukovsky, Kara O'Riley, Lexi Soucie – provide leadership at pitching, defense, and offense.

Kara O'Riley and Amanda Riley were named to the NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team (May 13-14) as the Seahawks banged out 33 hits in three games while going 1-2 in their first ever NCAA appearance.

Iaquinto comes to Salve Regina University with recent NCAA experience as a coach for both Marist College (Division I) and Lesley University (Division III).

"Our biggest challenge this season is embracing a new team culture while defending the CCC title," Iaquinto commented. "The focus from day one has been 'team first,' and my expectations for this team are high – a program with a strong winning tradition will no doubt, be making a run for another conference championship in 2017."

The University of New England claimed the last first place vote in this season's poll and earned 75 points for the fourth spot. 2016 CCC Tournament runner-up, Roger Williams, earned 61 points to round out the top five.

The bottom half of the ledger included Eastern Nazarene (41 points), Nichols (39), Curry (32), Gordon (28), and Wentworth (11).

The softball season gets underway this weekend as teams start to make their spring trips down south. The first conference doubleheaders take place on Friday, March 24, with Eastern Nazarene visiting Western New England and Gordon taking a trip to Salve Regina.

The top eight teams in the conference standings will qualify for the CCC Softball Tournament, which begins with the play-in phase on Friday, April 28. The remaining six teams after the play-in phase will then compete in a double-elimination tournament to determine the CCC Tournament Champion. The championship round will take place on Saturday, May 6. The CCC Tournament Champion will earn the league's automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division III Softball Championship.