Jan. 27, 2016
ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- The Missouri State softball team received more first-place votes than any other Valley squad, but finished second in a top-heavy Missouri Valley Conference preseason coaches poll released by the league office on Wednesday (Jan. 27). The Bears also were well represented on the preseason All-MVC team with senior Erin Duewel, junior Erin Struemph and sophomore Erika Velasquez Zimmer earning nods. All three players were All-MVC first team members in 2015.
"It is nice to be recognized as one of the top teams in the Valley," stated head coach Holly Hesse. "I think we will prove worthy of that pick as the season progresses. It will be a highly competitive conference season with so many good teams in the league. We look forward to the challenge."
MSU received four first-place votes and finished with 76 points in the poll, pegged behind league preseason favorite Wichita State (three first-place votes, 84 points). The Bears finished ahead of UNI (74 points), Drake (72) and Illinois State (70) as the top five teams were separated by a total of just 14 points. Indiana State (55), Southern Illinois (55), Bradley (32), Loyola (21) and Evansville (11) rounded out the poll.
Duewel enters her final season with Missouri State after earning all-conference honors for the first time in her career last spring. She set a program record with a .667 slugging percentage and hit nine of her 11 home runs during Valley play. Duewel set career marks in nearly every offensive category last year and has the second-highest single season home run total in school history. She slugged a league-best .947 during MVC play and was successful on all eight stolen base attempts. She was named MVC Player of the Week on April 27 and hit a two-run home run on the final day of the regular season to secure a bye into the semifinals for MSU.
Struemph takes the reins of staff ace after back-to-back stellar campaigns to begin her MSU career. She earned NFCA All-Region third team honors on top of her all-conference selection in 2015. She had a league-best six saves a year ago and finished in the top-four in the league with a 3.05 ERA (3rd) and 159 strikeouts (4th). Struemph began last season with 23-consecutive outings with at least one strikeout and her only two appearances without a strikeout were an inning or less of relief. She has been named to the MVC All-Tournament team in each of her first two seasons at Missouri State.
Velasquez Zimmer burst onto the scene during her freshman campaign. She hit a team-high .361, the highest batting average by a freshman in MSU history, while picking up All-MVC first team honors and the MVC Newcomer of the Year award. She stole 19 bases in 2015, the second-most among league players. Velasquez Zimmer's first career home run was a grand slam in the MSU win over Loyola at Killian Stadium and propelled her to MVC Newcomer of the Week accolades the following week. She topped the team in 2015 with 19 multi-hits games and her 1.46 hits per game during MVC play was the best in the league.
Missouri State returns seven starters and 13 letterwinners from the 2015 team that finished second in the Valley and reached the MVC Tournament finals. The Bears begin the 2016 season at the UT Arlington Invitational on Feb. 12 with a 9:00 a.m. tilt versus Texas Southern. MSU's home opener is slated for March 8 at 3:00 p.m. against Central Arkansas. Season tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 417-836-8899.