VALDOSTA — To the surprise of no one, the Valdosta State softball team was tabbed as the preseason favorite to win the Gulf South Conference this season.
The reigning Division II national champions received five first place votes, two more than Alabama-Huntsville, which also received a fourth place vote.
West Alabama was tabbed to finish third in the conference, followed by: West Florida, North Alabama, Delta State, West Georgia and Christian Brothers.
The Blazers, who finished with a 58-5 record a year ago and winners of a fourth straight conference championship and the school’s first-ever national championship, open their season Feb. 2 against Southern Arkansas University in Pensacola, Fla.
Four Valdosta State student-athletes were tabbed to the 2013 Preseason All-GSC Team, the second-most of any team — UAH had six.
Morgan Johnson and Courtney Albritton, both All-Americans in 2012, were selected to the first team. Albritton, last year’s GSC Freshman and Player of the Year, was the only underclassman to make the first team, as she will start at shortstop this season for the Blazers.
Catcher Ashley Steinhilber and junior Brianna Hancock were selected to the second team.
Three new Blazers were selected as Top Newcomers. Juniors Shelby Altman and Hannah Strickland were recognized as well as true-freshman pitcher Hanna Lythman.
Valdosta State returns just three position starters — Johnson, Albritton and Steinhilber — and one Hancock, in the circle. Following the 2012 season, eight Blazer players graduated, including All-Americans April Hutchens and Alanna Hadley.
— Follow me on Twitter at @Ed_Hooper.