Sam Houston State has been picked to win the 2013 Southland Conference softball title in the annual preseason poll of the league's head coaches.
The Bearkats, who finished second last year in the regular season and conference post-season tournament, received seven first-place votes from the coaches and 78 total points.
Key returners for the Bearkats feature include first baseman Kim Damian, a senior from Angleton, Texas; third baseman Shelbi Tucker, a senior from Montgomery, Texas; catcher Hillary Adams, a sophomore from Elgin, Texas; and outfielder Tori Benavidez, a senior from Midlothian, Texas.
McNeese State, the team that Sam Houston defeated in last year's Southland tournament semifinals, has been tabbed second by the coaches. The Cowgirls return 11 letterwinners, including seven starters and two pitchers.
Central Arkansas stands third in the coaches' poll, followed by A&M-Corpus Christi, Stephen F. Austin, Northwestern State and Nicholls State.
Houston Baptist, which is an affiliate member for softball this season before becoming a member of the Southland in all sports next year, was picked to finish tied for eighth along with Southeastern Louisiana in the coaches' poll.
Lamar, which is reviving its softball program this season after playing from 1983-87, was picked to finish 10th in both polls.
Southland teams open the season Feb. 7 with conference play beginning March 9. The conference tournament will be hosted by Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La., May 9-11 at the Lady Demon Diamond Complex. The championship game will be streamed live exclusively on ESPN3.
Sam Houston State's first softball action will come Feb. 7-9 at the Baylor Bear Classic in Waco.
2013 Preseason Southland Softball Coaches Poll
1. Sam Houston State (7)
2. McNeese State (2)
3. Central Arkansas (1)
4. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
5. Stephen F. Austin
6. Northwestern State
7. Nicholls State
8. Houston Baptist
8. Southeastern Louisiana