Reinhardt, which went 36-12 last year with a 14-4 mark in the AAC, received five of 10 first-place votes and 74 points overall, five points ahead of second-place Tennessee Wesleyan.
This year, the Lady Eagles will try and better a 2012 season that saw them fall one run shy of advancing past the group state of the NAIA tournament. They finished the season ranked 13th in the nation.
While coach Glen Crawford was pleased with the fact that Reinhardt is still seen by the majority of the conference’s coaches as the top team, he also acknowledged that being the favorite puts a bull’s-eye on the Lady Eagles’ backs.
“That rank brings a lot of pressure and a lot of work,” said Crawford, the team’s sixth-year coach. “It’s hard to stay on top. People are gunning for you all the time.”
Crawford will see the return of seven starters from last year’s team — pitchers Maddie Monroe and Haley Brannon, infielders Brandie DeLay, Lindsey Booker, Lauren Eide and Callie Ann Poole, and outfielder Kelci White.
Monroe had a 0.70 ERA last year in conference play, and is expected to be the anchor of Reinhardt’s pitching staff. Backing her up will be Brannon, the former Creekview High School star who finished last season with a 0.71 ERA in conference play as a freshman.
“I’d say that, right now, pitching is our strong point,” Crawford said. “Our hitting and defense will have to catch up.”
The Lady Eagles are not without ways to wreak havoc on the basepaths, however. In nine fall games, Reinhardt managed to steal 33 bases.
“If we can get on base, then we can score some runs,” Crawford said.
Reinhardt will also see an infusion of talent that will be expected to hit the ground running.
“We are going to have some new players in a lot of spots,” Crawford said. “There will be a lot of new faces in new places, but they are very talented. I’d say that we have a more talented freshman class that the one that just graduated was when they were freshmen.”
Some of the underclassmen expected to make an impact are freshman Katie Blair, Shelby Sinclair, Ashleigh Armstrong, Kaley Garmon and the trio of Creekview alumni Ashley Chumbler, Audrie Pryor, and Amber Herrington.
Also joining the Lady Eagles will be Tyler Sampson, a sophomore transfer from Georgia Southern.
Even with a large number of youth on his roster, Crawford refused to classify the upcoming season as a rebuilding year.
“People say that if you’re young, you’re rebuilding, but I don’t agree with that,” Crawford said. “We have a good chance to win the conference this year. We are going to be young, but we are going to be very good.”