Michigan, Nebraska Ranked in Top 10 of ESPN.com/USA Softball Preseason Poll

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Michigan and Nebraska are both ranked among the top 10 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball preseason poll, which was released on Tuesday. The Wolverines open the season ranked No. 4, while the Cornhuskers were No. 9. Reigning Big Ten Champion Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa also received votes in the preseason poll.

The preseason rankings mirrored last week's NFCA preseason poll, in which Michigan was slotted fifth and Nebraska was ranked No. 9.

Michigan is set to return 16 letterwinners from a team that captured its sixth consecutive Big Ten title and advanced to the Women's College World Series for the 10th time. Highlighting the Wolverines' returners is sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero, who claimed Big Ten Player and Freshman of the Year honors last season. Michigan also returns first-team All-Big Ten performers Caitlin Blanchard, Sara Driesenga, Sierra Lawrence and Lauren Sweet, and Haylie Wagner, who was named to the All-Big Ten second team. Head coach Carol Hutchins enters her 30th season at Michigan - she has won three consecutive Big Ten Coach of the Year awards. The Wolverines will open the season in Tampa, Fla., where they will take on No. 4 Florida on Feb. 8.  

Nebraska won 45 games last season and earned the program's seventh trip to the WCWS. The Huskers will return seven starters from last year's team, including its entire pitching staff. Tatum and Taylor Edwards, who are twins, both return as first-team All-Big Ten performers. Second-team All-Big Ten returners include Alicia Armstrong and Emily Lockman. The Huskers will open the season against UTEP on Feb. 7 in Las Cruces, N.M.

Wisconsin returns 14 letterwinners from last year's team that made its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance. Among the Badgers' returners is senior outfielder Mary Massei, who was a unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten first team in 2013. Cassandra Darrah, Stefanni LaJeunesse and Maria Van Abel, who were all named to the Big Ten All-Tournament team after the Badgers' run to the championship, also return to bolster Wisconsin's lineup. The Badgers, who enter their fourth year under the tutelage of head coach Yvette Healy, will open the 2014 season on Feb. 7 against No. 4 Florida in the USF Wilson-Demarini Tournament, along with Michigan.

Minnesota returns 14 letterwinners from last year's squad that advanced to the NCAA Tournament and posted the program's most successful season in a decade. The Golden Gophers will welcome back first-team All-Big Ten selections Sara Moulton, Kaitlyn Richardson and Tyler Walker. Minnesota head coach Jessica Allister enters her fourth year at the helm. The Gophers will open the season on Feb. 7 at the Tiger Classic in Baton Rouge, La.

Iowa returns 11 letterwinners and six starters from last year's team that won 30 games. The Hawkeyes' lineup will be bolstered by the return of first-team All-Big Ten performer Megan Blank and pitcher Kayla Massey, who was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team in 2013. Iowa will open the season on Feb. 7 at the Carolina Classic, where the Hawkeyes will take on host South Carolina on the first day of competition.


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