BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Despite losing eight seniors, most of which were heavy contributors, from the 2012 NCAA Division II National Championship squad, the Gulf South Conference determined that Valdosta State is still a force with which to be reckoned.
A preseason poll of the conference’s coaches yielded five first place votes to Valdosta State, two more than the nearest competitor, Alabama-Huntsville. The Blazers picked up two second place votes while UAH had three second place and, surprisingly, one fourth place vote.
After the Chargers, coaches ranked the teams as follows: West Alabama, West Florida, North Alabama, Delta State, West Georgia and Christian Brothers.
While Valdosta State earned the top preseason honor, Alabama-Huntsville placed more players on the 2013 Preseason All-GSC Team. Six Chargers made the list, but four Blazers were honored. The only other school with multiple selections was West Alabama with three.
Two former VSU All-Americans made the squad in senior Morgan Johnson and sophomore Courtney Albritton. Albritton is the only sophomore to make the team, composed of her, nine seniors and five juniors.
Senior Ashley Steinhilber and junior Brianna Hancock also represent Valdosta State on the Preseason All-GSC team. Steinhilber was a 2011 All-GSC First Teamer and a Second Teamer last season while Hancock finished 2012 on the All-GSC Second Team.
Albritton and Johnson were both First Teamers last season, Albritton earning the conference’s Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year awards. Johnson was also a GSC Freshman of the Year in 2010.
Three new Blazers were also recognized as GSC Top Newcomers. Junior transfers Shelby Altman and Hannah Strickland were recognized as well as freshman pitcher Hanna Lythman. Altman is an outfielder who last played at Georgia while Strickland is an infielder that comes from Gulf Coast Community College.
Altman’s home town is Alma, Ga. While Strickland is from Tallahassee, Fla. Lythman is another in a long line of Blazers to make the trip south from Chicago.
These Blazers will look to push Valdosta State’s record of four consecutive Gulf South Conference Championships to five in this season’s defense of the national championship.