(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
The Montana softball team was picked for a fourth-place finish in the seven-team Big Sky Conference preseason coaches’ poll that was released on Thursday morning.
All seven league teams will be in action next week as the 2019 softball schedule starts up. The Grizzlies will open their season at the NorCal Kickoff, with five games at Davis and Sacramento, Calif.
Sacramento State, which will host the Big Sky tournament in early May, topped the poll, picking up six of seven first-place votes.
The Hornets tied with Weber State at 14-7 atop last year’s standings and won a pair of games in Ogden, Utah, to claim the weather-shortened Big Sky tournament title and advance to the NCAA tournament.
Sacramento State will have to move forward without 2018 Big Sky Pitcher of the Year Celina Matthias but returns Big Sky Player of the Year and Big Sky tournament MVP Suzy Brookshire, one of seven position starters who are back for the Hornets.
Weber State, the outright or regular-season co-champion the last three seasons, was picked second, Portland State third.
The Vikings return a league-high four first- or second-team All-Big Sky selections, the Wildcats bring back three.
Montana came in fourth in the voting, ahead of Northern Colorado, which won 28 games last season and was selected, along with Weber State, to play in the National Invitational Softball Championship.
The Bears, who return a pair of All-Big Sky players, picked up the only other first-place vote.
UNC is one of two teams under a first-year coach this season. Ben Garcia, formerly at Division II Colorado Mesa, takes over for Shana Easley, who accepted a position at Arkansas, her alma mater.
Idaho State was picked sixth, Southern Utah seventh. Kortny Hall, an assistant coach with the Thunderbirds last season, takes over head coaching duties for Tom Gray at SUU.
Montana and Idaho State are the only teams without a returner who earned first- or second-team All-Big Sky honors last season.
Six of the Big Sky’s seven softball programs will advance to the league tournament, which opens on Wednesday, May 8, at Sacramento State.
The Grizzlies, who lost 11 seniors off last year’s team, went 25-30 in 2018 and finished fifth in the Big Sky with a 10-11 league record.
Montana defeated Portland State in the opening round of the Big Sky tournament but dropped games to Sacramento State and North Dakota to end its season.
The Grizzlies will open their spring season on Friday, Feb. 8, with games against Santa Clara and UC Davis on UCD’s home field.
Montana will play in five early-season tournaments before opening at home against Utah Valley on Saturday, March 16.
2019 Big Sky Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll
- Sacramento State (6) … 36
- Weber State … 30
- Portland State … 24
- Montana … 20
- Northern Colorado (1) … 16
- Idaho State … 15
- Southern Utah … 6