DURANT, Okla. – Southeastern softball will open the 2015 season with the same national ranking it finished the 2014 season as the No. 4 team in the nation in the NFCA Preseason Poll released on Wednesday.
The Savage Storm climbed from unranked to a No. 4 finish in 2014 after making a Cinderella run through the NCAA postseason, topping the Central Region in road trips to Minnesota and South Dakota before advancing to the National Finals and a third-place finish.
SE posted a 45-20 record in 2014 and won the Great American Conference regular season championship, earning an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament as a No. 7 seed.
The Storm will also enter the year as the favorite to win the GAC Championship after topping the league's preseason poll.
The Storm will look to pick up where they left off and will do so with a vast majority of the team that made that postseason run still intact.
The team returns its top four hitters including All-American and GAC Player of the Year Jessica Simmons who hit .413 and stole a league-best 38 bases.
She is joined by Laramie Beal, Sydney Kramer and Haley Strawn, all of whom hit over .350 for the season.
In all, Southeastern returns seven position players who started at least half the team's games last year.
The Storm will have to replace GAC Pitcher of the Year Mindy McElroy who graduated, but the staff does return Jacee Bennett who was 8-5 with a team-best 83 strikeouts in 89.0 innings pitched.
SE will also welcome five newcomers to the roster, including four freshmen.
Southeastern is the highest ranked team in the Central Region and the only GAC school in the poll.
Three other schools in the region cracked the poll with SE Super-Regional opponent Augustana earning a No. 14 ranking, while the team the Storm beat to reach that Super-Regional, Emporia State, is ranked No. 18. Winona State rounds out the regional schools in the poll at No. 22.
The 2014 National Champion West Texas A&M opens the year as the No. 1 team, followed by Valdosta State, the team that ended Southeastern's postseason run in the Semifinals of the National Tournament, and Dixie State the team to hand SE its first loss at the National Finals.
Wayne State rounds out the top five.
The Storm will open the 2015 season with a Feb. 6-8 trip to Tucson, Ariz., for the NCAA Division II Leadoff Classic, the same event SE won in 2013 which propelled them to a No. 2 national ranking.
The event features 18 teams, with six nationally-ranked teams, including three of the top five teams.
SE opens the event with Colorado Mesa at 3:30 pm on Feb. 6, followed by a 5:30 p.m. matchup with Fort Lewis.
The Storm will then face Regis at 9 a.m. on Feb. 7 before entering bracket play.
Southeastern will open its home schedule Feb. 13-15 when it hosts the Southeastern Regional Invitational at the Durant Multi-Sport Complex.