The web site College Sports Madness has ranked Fresno State as the No. 31 softball team in the nation in its preseason rankings, and also picked the Bulldogs to win the Mountain West championship in their first year in the conference.
The ranking and prediction seem to be a bit optimistic when considering that Fresno State's two dominant pitchers last season -- Michelle Moses and Mackenzie Oakes -- have graduated. The duo combined for 34 of the team's 36 wins, including 15 shutouts. Not only that, softball legend Margie Wright retired as the country's winningest all-time coach, meaning Fresno State will have a new head coach at the helm of the program for the first time in a generation.
New coach Trisha Ford inherits a squad that returns its top five hitters in terms of batting average, and a total of 13 letter winners. Eight newcomers will be relied on heavily, particularly in the circle where freshman Hannah Harris (a California All-State pick, who earned CIF Southern Section Division 4 Player of the Year honors at Goleta Dos Pueblos HS) is expected to be a force. Harris is one of the most highly-decorated pitching recruits in Fresno State history. She and fellow newcomer Jill Compton (Arroyo Grande HS) combined for more than 1,400 strikeouts in their high school careers.
Fresno State and Nevada will both be playing in the Mountain West for the first time this season after departing the Western Athletic Conference. The MW should be as strong as it's ever been this year. Both the Bulldogs and the Wolf Pack picked up wins last season in San Diego over eventual 2012 MW champion San Diego State, setting the stage this year for an intriguing and challenging race to the conference title.
The Bulldogs have been to 30 NCAA Tournaments in the last 31 years, best in the nation. However, the squad didn't receive an at-large berth last year after 30 consecutive bids. Fresno State, which has never had a losing season in school history, won 36 games in 2012 and picked up wins over the likes of 5th-ranked UCLA and 11th-ranked Hawai'i.
We'll have full previews of all seven MW teams beginning next week, with our own predictions of the conference race.