NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Three Lipscomb Lady Bisons softball players were named to the 12-player Atlantic Sun Preseason All-Conference Team.
Pitcher Tanner Sanders, infielder Paige Neely and outfielder Brittany Elmore were named in an announcement Wednesday afternoon from the conference office. Neely was one of four unanimous picks.
USC Upstate led with four selections. The Lady Bisons were second followed by Stetson with two.
The Lady Bisons were also selected to finish second in the A-Sun this season behind USC Upstate. Upstate received all eight first place votes for 64. The Lady Bisons had 55 points. Stetson was selected to finish third with 45 points followed closely by Florida Gulf Coast in fourth with 43.
All voting for both players and conference rankings were by the coaches in the conference.
Neely, a senior, is expected to return to shortstop this season after playing third base in 2014. Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman is counting on Neely to be one of the leaders of the team both on and off of the field.
“Paige is a huge part of our team,” Ryman said. “She always has been.
“From the very first practice (when she transferred from Austin Peay) it was like, `wow, what an athlete’. Having a hitter like her in the top part of our lineup is huge. Not many teams want to face her in clutch situations because she is a gamer. She is the one we want at the plate in those situations.”
Neely, who led the Lady Bisons with a .378 batting average last season, is projected to be the No. 2 batter in the lineup with Elmore returning as the leadoff hitter.
“They are a strong one-two punch,” Ryman said. “We like having a left-lefty situation at the top. It is a good dynamic for us. Brittany is a classic leadoff batter. We really like her there.
“Her ability to swing away was a weapon for her last year. She has continued to work on the hitting side as much as being a slapper. She is a threat all the way around – hitting, slapping and running. “
Elmore, who batted .319 with 26 stolen bases, has received her share of awards as she enters her junior year.
“Brittany, especially offensively, has high standards for herself,” Ryman said. “She works and works and works on the offensive side. She is the tone-setter for us and she loves that role.
“She is that player who wants so badly to make something happen every single at bat. Sometimes we have to remind her she is going to fail sometimes and that is part of the game. When she does fail she wants to know right away what happened and how she can fix it the next time.”
Sanders, a junior, has made an impact in the circle since her freshman season. She has made a reputation for winning games against some of the most powerful teams the Lady Bisons face. Last season she beat Virginia Tech twice, including once in the NCAA Tournament. She has also beaten Baylor and Iowa on the way to a 12-4 record and a 2.66 ERA.
“Tanner, when she first came here, had so much raw, untapped potential,” Ryman said. “That was exciting for us as coaches.
“She is a classic example of someone who legitimately keeps getting better and better. She had more strikeouts as a freshman than last year, But her earned run average and her walks went down last season. She was in more control of her game last year and I think she would say the same thing.”
Sanders and Kelly Young, a transfer from Arkansas, are expected to be the top two pitchers this season.
“We are really excited for Tanner this season,” Ryman said. “She finds ways to become a better pitcher. She does a ton of work on her own. She wants to be the best pitcher she can be for this team and she keeps getting better.”
Ryman and the Lady Bisons were one of the three teams representing the A-Sun last season in the NCAA Tournament. Ryman has high expectations for this year’s team.
“Upstate has put up some great numbers, but I think we have as well,” Ryman said. “We have a very deep conference.
“We say it every year but preseason rankings don’t mean a lot. They are based on what happened the year before and what players are returning. It is going to be an interesting year. It will be a challenging year.”
The Lady Bisons open the season at Draper Diamond at Smith Stadium when Missouri-Kansas City visits Feb. 6 as part of the Music City Classic. The classic is co-hosted with Belmont.