With five players making the preseason All-Conference team, it's no surprise the Ragin' Cajuns are tabbed to win the Sun Belt.
Eight of nine offensive starters return to play for Michael Lotief in 2016, they will have the target on their backs yet again. Lexie Elxins, who was tabbed the Preseason Sun Belt Student Athlete of the Year, will lead the show, but their coach will keep them humble.
"Our players and fans understand that awards and honors are not given based on a preseason vote, they are earned on the field through hard work and even some ups and downs,” Louisiana softball head coach Michael Lotief said. "We know other teams will give us their best shot and we will be pushed and exposed, week in and week out. We are excited and ready for the challenge."
Elkins, along with 2B Haley Hayden, OF Shellie Landry, SS DJ Sanders and 1B Kelsey Vincent headlined the Preseason All-Sun Belt team, and the Cajuns received all but one first place vote when it came to picking the conference champ. The pressure is on, but isn't that the case every season? The fans at Lamson Park are used to the heat, and so are the players.
Lotief tries to keep his players grounded, but he never tries to steal their thunder when it rolls. Preseason honors just mean his team his doing something right.
"All of our players are so deserving to be recognized because of how hard they work on the field and in the classroom – individual honors are not our top focus or priority," Lotief said. "But when the spotlight shines on one it really tells the role that so many individuals play in that development including fans, professors, family and staff."
Of course, Elkins leads the conversation. The Preseason Sun Belt Student Athlete of the Year led the Cajuns in HR's (32, a new school record and best in the nation), RBI's (83), batting average (.426), slugging percentage and a ton of other power statistics, but she also came second in the team in overall hits. Hayley Hayden (69 hits) was the only player to collect more hits than Elkins (66), and she led the team in runs scored with 66. Those two are a deadly connection, but they're just part of the gauntlet opposing pitchers will have to face this season.
Landry's 20 HR's and 59 RBI's were second to only Elkins on the Cajun roster, and her spot on the All-Sun Belt team was locked down for the second straight year without dispute. It's pick your poison when it comes to deciding to pitch to Landry, Elkins and Vincent in the meat of the lineup.
This is also Vincent's second season making first team All-Sun Belt, but her first selection at first base. She set personal bests in pretty much every offensive category last season, and her glove is only getting batter with the scoops at first base. Speaking of defense, let's not forget about the Cajuns' last selection to the preseason All-Sun Belt team.
DJ Sanders was thrown into the fryer at the shortstop position as a freshman last year, and she committed the least errors (8) of any starter in the league. Her bat continues to get better, especially under Lotief's guidance, but her glove can be counted on to save the Cajuns a few runs this season. There might be a few questions in the circle, but Sanders is a pitcher's best friend.
With all the youth on last year's team, many analysts expected it to be a rebuilding year. They reached a Super Regional. The same players are back, and they can't wait to put on a show again.
Season tickets are still available at RaginCajuns,com, the Cajundome Box Office and by phone at (337)-265-2100.
Softball Preseason All-Conference Team
Taylor Rogers, Georgia Southern, Junior, Outfield
Taylor Anderson, Georgia State, Senior, Shortstop
Ivie Drake, Georgia State, Sophomore, Catcher
Devin Brown, South Alabama, Sophomore, Pitcher
Emily Messer, South Alabama, Senior, Third Base
Stephanie Pilkington, South Alabama, Senior, Outfield
Randi Rupp, Texas State, Sophomore, Pitcher
Kendall Wiley, Texas State, Senior, First Base
Lexie Elkins, UL Lafayette, Senior, Catcher
Haley Hayden, UL Lafayette, Junior, Second Base
Shellie Landry, UL Lafayette, Senior, Outfield
DJ Sanders, UL Lafayette, Sophomore, Shortstop
Kelsey Vincent, UL Lafayette, Senior, First Base
Rochelle Roberts, UL Monroe, Junior, Outfield
Mya Anderson, UT Arlington, Senior, Designated Player
Preseason Student-Athlete of the Year
Lexie Elkins, UL Lafayette, Catcher, Senior
Preseason Pitcher of the Year
Randi Rupp, Texas State, Pitcher, Sophomore
2016 Sun Belt Conference Preseason Poll (First Place Votes)
1. UL Lafayette (8) - 98 pts
2. South Alabama (1) - 90 pts
3. Georgia State - 74 pts
4. Texas State - 71 pts
5. Troy - 66 pts
6. UL Monroe - 56 pts
7. UT Arlington - 46 pts
8. Georgia Southern - 38 pts
9. Appalachian State - 28 pts