The 2015 preseason coaches poll selected the Long Beach State softball team to repeat as Big West conference champions.
All of the Big West head coaches participated in the annual poll, which was released last Tuesday. The 49ers received four first-place votes and earned a total of 59 points to nab the top spot.
“I’m grateful for the respect that people show to the program,” head coach Kim Sowder said. “However, that poll doesn’t mean anything. How that poll finishes up at the end of the season, that’s all that matters.”
Sowder’s players were a little more enthusiastic about the preseason poll.
“I like the fact that, [since] we were Big West champions last year, they think we’re going to do it again,” senior infielder Ashley Holmes said. “It’s always a good thing. I think that our team, especially with a lot of younger players, can definitely do it again.”
The 49ers are aware of the consequences of believing the hype.
“We shouldn’t take that to our heads,” junior infielder Darian Tautalafua said. “Getting a big head around here is not really a good thing to do.”
The confident vote from league coaches gives added credibility to a program that has established itself as one of the best over the last two years. However, Sowder said she doesn’t believe it adds any extra pressure on the 49ers to repeat as Big West champions.
“Our expectations in this program are always to win a conference championship,” Sowder said. And that’s not going to change.”
Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly are poised to be the 49ers’ biggest competitors for the Big West title. Fullerton came in second on the same poll with three first-place votes and 56 points in total. Cal Poly came in third with one first-place vote and 50 points in total.
Focus will be the key to winning the Big West again, Sowder said. Playing the game one pitch at a time, making sure her players don’t get ahead of themselves and getting better every day are her main goals. She expects leadership from every one of her players, not just the seniors and team captains.
“What [the captains] bring in day in and day out, they’re team players, their work ethic, they lead by example, all the things they do are why they’re named captains,” Sowder said. “But, you know, leadership comes every day from different players.”
The 49ers’ team captains will be senior infielder Ashley Holmes, junior pitcher Selene Polamalu and senior infielder Shayna Kimbrough.
Repeating last year’s championship run will be a challenge. Getting through the difficult preseason schedule, while keeping their confidence, will be the 49ers’ first test. The 49ers will play against defending national champion Florida, and ranked opponents Oregon, Kentucky, UCLA, Arizona, Missouri and Auburn.
There are ten new faces on the team, but the return of 2014 defensive player of the year Shayna Kimbrough and 2014 first team All-Big West selection Amanda Hansen will certainly help.
“With so many new players, our identity is unknown” Sowder said. “It’s exciting to be able to build that.”