By Chris Whitaker, The Americus Times-Recorder
Eddie Ward won't be making any guarantees this year, but he's sure the Georgia Southwestern softball team will turn some heads in the Peach Belt.
The preseason coaches poll was released Wednesday with the Lady Hurricanes picked at the bottom.
North Georgia received five first-place votes, Francis Marion picked up four, and Armstrong Atlantic received the other.
Lander and GSW were picked ninth and 10th, and Ward said his team has proved the poll wrong both previous years so far.
"It does not surprise me one bit," said Ward. "But we've never finished last. The first season we were next to last, and then our second year we didn't finish last. It surprises me somewhat that we were not picked eighth. But how disappointed could you be picked eighth or ninth. I just think we're going to surprise a lot of people."
The Lady Hurricanes finished 19-29 overall and 4-14 in conference play. They were eighth in the conference in batting (.272) and last in earned run average (4.44).
Rounding out the poll, places three through eight were: Georgia College, Armstrong Atlantic, UNC Pembroke, Columbus State, Augusta State and USC-Aiken.
GSW returns four players in the field who started at least 34 games last season, and the Milstid sisters of Tiffany and Brittany are back on the mound.
Ward brought in 10 new faces, including Mariko Nomura, the Region XVII Pitcher of the Year at South Georgia in the Georgia Junior College Association.
"She took a junior college who never won anything, won the state tournament and went to the national tournament," said Ward.
He said a lot of expectations, more than the past, will be on the team to have success this season.
"When you bring in 10 new people, that means you weren't real happy with where you were," said Ward. "I like where we're at; I like this team. Everyone of these girls are Peach Belt material. We're light years ahead than past years in talent. We just have to see if we're light years passed other teams in results."
Ward added: "With the pitching we've got, I find it very hard to believe we will be last in any category. I sort of like being picked to finish last. It motivates me."
GSW will host its first invitational Feb. 6-7 that will include Armstrong Atlantic, Albany State, Anderson, Flagler, Wesleyan and Brewton Parker.
2009 Peach Belt Conference Softball Preseason Poll
Rank Team (first-place votes)
1. North Georgia (5)
2. Francis Marion (4)
4. Armstrong Atlantic St. (1)
5. UNC Pembroke
6. Columbus State
7. Augusta State
8. USC Aiken
10. Georgia Southwestern
PHOTO BY: Chris Fenn