January 18, 2018 8:54:28 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The Florida softball team, the three-time reigning Southeastern Conference regular-season champion, has been selected as the preseason favorite for the 2018 season after a vote of the 13 SEC head coaches in the annual preseason poll.
The Gators, who received 11 first-place votes, will vie for their eighth overall regular-season title after posting a 20-3 record in the SEC last season.
Tennessee earned one first-place vote and is projected to finish second in the SEC, while Texas A&M took third. LSU was ranked fourth, and Alabama, which earned one first-place vote, rounded out the top five.
Mississippi State was picked 13th, while Ole Miss was picked seventh.
MSU and coach Vann Stuedeman will try for their sixth NCAA Regional berth in the last seven years when they begin their season Feb. 9 at the Bulldog Kickoff Classic. The run would be MSU's best stretch in program history, surpassing MSU's five tournament appearances over six seasons from 2000-05.
MSU went 36-22 (10-14 in the SEC) last season. MSU lost to Ole Miss in the SEC tournament and to BYU and Fordham in the NCAA tournament regional.
MSU's roster features 26 players, including nine freshmen. MSU returns 16 student-athletes for the upcoming season, including 11 upperclassmen.
MSU will open the season against Mississippi Valley State (3 p.m.) and Nebraska-Omaha (5:30 p.m.) on Feb. 9.
Ole Miss received 81 points and finished ahead of Kentucky (76), Georgia (49), Arkansas (39), Missouri (34), South Carolina (30), and Mississippi State (28), all of which received bids to the 2017 NCAA tournament.
Ole Miss will open the season Feb. 9-11 at the Sand Dollar Classic in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Alabama, which finished fifth in the SEC last season, will open the season against South Alabama on Thursday, Feb. 8, in Mobile, Alabama. It then will travel to Gulf Shores, Alabama, that weekend to compete in the Sand Dollar Classic.
Alabama will face Central Arkansas, Lamar, Penn State, and Virginia Tech in three days of competition.
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