(KANSAS CITY, Mo.)— The MIAA Preseason Softball Coaches Poll found Missouri Western picked fifth.
The Griffons will begin the 2019 season looking to improve on a fifth-place regular season finish in 2018. It was just the second time in 15 seasons the program finished with a record below .500. Experience should prove to be valuable for this year's team, as the Griffons return seven players that started at least 20 games in the field from last season.
MIAA PRESEASON SOFTBALL COACHES POLL
1. Washburn (11)
2. Central Oklahoma (2)
3. Central Missouri
4. Northwest Missouri
5. Missouri Western
6. Northeastern State
8. Emporia State (1)
9. Pittsburg State
10. Missouri Southern
11. Nebraska Kearney
12. Fort Hays State
13. Southwest Baptist
The 2019 season could also be a season of career milestones for Missouri Western head coach Jen Bagley Trotter. She enters her 18th season at MWSU just two wins shy of her 600th coaching victory, all coming at Missouri Western. Already the all-time coaching wins leader at Missouri Western, Bagley Trotter is 17 wins from becoming the MIAA's all-time leader in the same category.
Among the team's most notable returners is 2017 MIAA Defensive Player of the Year, Shelby Uhl. Uhl started all 54 games in center field as a junior, committing just one error with a .990 fielding percentage. She was the team's most productive hitter with a .345 average, 61 hits, and 45 RBIs. Fellow outfielder Morgan Frost also returns for the Griffons. Frost started all 54 games in left and was the team's second-leading hitter with 57 hits, including a team-high 15 doubles.
Gabi Carter and Lonnie Groves highlight the returners for the infield. Carter was one of four hitters on the team to hit over .300 with a .305 batting average. Meanwhile, Groves was second on the team with eight home runs as the team's primary shortstop.
In the pitching circle, the Griffons return both of their primary starters from last year's team in Kenzie Hilzer and Kaili Hinds. Hilzer will be coming off her sophomore season in which she was named All-MIAA Honorable Mention. Hilzer finished with a 14-14 overall record with a team-high 88 strikeouts.
Joining the Missouri Western pitching staff are transfers Lexi Kinnaird and Olivia Goodale. Kinnaird transfers to Missouri Western from NCAA Division I institution Wisconsin Green Bay, where she appeared in 23 games with 11 starts. Goodale comes to Missouri Western after pitching two seasons at Indian Hills Community College, finishing with a career record of 27-17 with a 2.16 ERA.
Missouri Western Softball will begin the 2019 season at the Kelly Laas Memorial Tournament in St. Cloud, Minnesota this weekend. The Griffons will play four games over the weekend, beginning with a matchup with Minnesota State - Mankato on Feb. 1.