Seven Big Ten Conference schools are ranked or receiving votes in the preseason polls released by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) and USA Softball on Tuesday.
Reigning Big Ten Champion Minnesota leads the Big Ten contingent in the preseason rankings, standing No. 16 in the USA Today/NFCA poll and No. 18 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll. Led by first-year head coach Jamie Trachsel, the Golden Gophers bring back seven starters and 14 letterwinners, including Big Ten Player and Freshman of the Year Kendyl Lindaman after going 56-5 last year and 22-1 in conference play en route to a berth in the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional championship game.
Michigan is also appearing in the top 25 of both rankings, tying for No. 16 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll and appearing No. 18 in the USA Today/NFCA poll. The Wolverines have 16 letterwinners, including five starters, back from last year’s squad that posted a 43-13-1 record, finished second in the Big Ten and advanced to the NCAA Seattle Regional final.
Illinois, Ohio State and Wisconsin are receiving votes in both preseason polls, while Nebraska and Northwestern earned votes in the ESPN.com/USA Softball balloting.
The Fighting Illini return six starters and 19 letterwinners after they compiled a 39-20 record last year and finished fourth in the Big Ten standings before advancing to the NCAA Lexington Regional final.
The Buckeyes fashioned a 35-18 record a season ago and wound up third on the final Big Ten ladder, ultimately reaching the Big Ten Tournament championship game. Ohio State welcomes six starters and 17 letterwinners back from a team that earned a berth in the NCAA Knoxville Regional.
The Badgers ended up with a 35-17 record last season and placed sixth in the Big Ten before a strong postseason run that culminated with a spot in the NCAA Eugene Regional title game. Wisconsin will have seven starters and 16 letterwinners back in the fold this year.
Nebraska has 10 starters and 14 letterwinners returning in 2018, as the Huskers look to return to the postseason after a 24-29 campaign a year ago.
Likewise, Northwestern has its sights on getting back to postseason play with seven starters and 14 letterwinners on the roster from a squad that went 25-29 last year.
All 14 Big Ten schools will play their season openers during the weekend of Feb. 9-11.
For the complete USA Today/NFCA poll, click here, while the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll can be found by clicking here.