Beach softball debuts in ranking

'Niners enter season at No. 20 in first ESPN.com/USA Softball national poll

Danny Lee, Assistant sports editor

Complete preseason Top-25 Poll

The Long Beach State softball team debuted at No. 20 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball preseason poll released on Tuesday.

LBSU, also picked to finish first in the Big West Conference by the coaches, tallied 120 points and was the only Big West team to crack the Top 25.

“I definitely think it’s a compliment to last year’s team and the returners,” head coach Kim Sowder said. “We’re very excited about 2009.”

The 49ers’ marquee returning player is sophomore pitcher and 2008 All-American Brooke Turner. The reigning Big West Pitcher of the Year compiled a 27-6 record and a 0.80 ERA last season to lead the ‘Niners to their 18th postseason appearance.

“We have good balance of veterans and newcomers,” Sowder said. “They put in a lot of work over the fall. Our veterans are setting high expectations for the newcomers.”

The Florida Gators of the Southeastern Conference were the preseason No. 1, grabbing 18 of the 20 first-place votes. Defending national champion Arizona State of the Pacific-10 Conference placed at No. 3 with one first-place vote.

The 49ers are scheduled to play a three-game series against the Sun Devils from March 20-21 in Tempe, Ariz. Sowder said the date with the national champs would help test her team before it heads into Big West play.

“It’s a great opportunity for our team,” Sowder said. “It’s great for our team to play competition like that to find out where we are, heading into conference play.”

The season kicks off at the Cathedral City Classic on Feb. 6 with the ‘Niners scheduled to play No. 22 Georgia at 10 a.m. and Southern Illinois at 12:30 p.m.