Coming off its first national title in the program's history, Butler softball enters 2017 with its highest NJCAA preseason ranking ever at No. 2, as the poll was released Monday.
With the No. 2 ranking, Butler has now been ranked in the NJCAA preseason top 10 for the fourth straight year and opened 10 of the last 11 seasons in the preseason top 20. Butler's previous best preseason ranking was sixth, which occurred during the 2014 and 2016 seasons.
Taking the top spot in the preseason poll is College of Central Florida, who finished 62-5 last year but was eliminated in district play. Rounding out the top five was Florida Southwestern State, Yavapai (Ariz.) and McLennan (Texas). Butler was the only Jayhawk Conference school in the poll.
The Grizzlies will begin the 2017 season this Saturday with two games in Gainesville, Texas. Butler will play Northeast Texas in the season opener at 2:00 p.m., then face North Central Texas at 4 p.m.
Butler will be on the road for the first 15 games to begin the season, including two Cowtown Classic Tournaments in Fort Worth, Texas on Feb. 3-4 and Feb. 17-18. The Grizzlies' home opener at East Park will be on Wednesday, Feb. 22 against Friends JV. Butler will then begin Jayhawk Conference play on March 1 at home against Dodge City.
Butler returns two NFCA All-Americans from last year's title squad in pitcher Regan Mergele (24-3, 1.51 ERA, 134 Ks, 143.1 IP) and pitcher/outfielder Brynn Minor. Mergele was tied for the team lead in wins (24) and finished with a 1.51 earned-run average with 134 strikeouts in 143.1 innings pitched. Minor hit .459 with six home runs and 47 runs batted in. Primarily in relief, Minor was 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 70.1 innings pitched.
The Grizzlies also bring back first-team All-Jayhawk Conference shortstop Becca Schulte, who led the team with 16 home runs and 73 runs batted in. Schulte hit .438 and was second on the team with 26 stolen bases in 28 attempts. Other returners include outfielder Tyesha Morgan (.407 / 4 HRs / 17 RBI) and infielder Chloe Holman (.368 / 3 HRs / 3 RBI).
Butler (53-4 overall last year) ended last season with their sixth straight Jayhawk Conference title, a Region VI Championship and a school-record 38-game winning streak enroute to its first-ever NJCAA National Championship. Since 2007, Butler has made seven trips to the Division I National Tournament, won eight Jayhawk Conference titles and seven Region VI Championships.