Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) After a runner-up finish at the 2013 NCAA Women's College World Series (WCWS), the Tennessee softball team has secured the No. 1 spot in the 2014 preseason ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll, as announced by the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) of America and USA Softball on Tuesday. Tennessee claimed six of the 20 first place votes in the poll.
This is the first time UT has started the season at No. 1 in the USA Softball poll. The Lady Vols' previous best was starting at No. 2 in the 2007 preseason poll. Tennessee is also the No. 1-ranked team in the 2014 USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Preseason Poll, which was released last week.
At the 2013 NCAA WCWS in Oklahoma City, the Lady Vols started 3-0 to earn a spot in the Championship Series before falling to the Oklahoma Sooners in the best two out of three series. The Lady Vols seize to top ranking from the No. 2 Sooners, who earned their second National Championship in program history last year and finished the 2013 season at No. 1. This marks the second year in a row the Sooners start the season at No. 2 after receiving five first place votes in this year's pre-season poll.
Florida matched Tennessee's six first place votes and come in ranked No. 3 to start the year. Michigan, coming off of a 51-13 season a year ago, falls in at No. 4 and Washington, who received two first place votes, rounds out the top five.
All eight teams that competed in the 2013 NCAA WCWS start the 2014 season in the Top 10. Seventh-ranked Arizona State received one first place vote while Nebraska comes in at No. 9 and Texas at No. 10. Filling out the remaining spots in the Top 10 are No. 6 Alabama and Oregon at No. 8.
The Southeastern Conference (SEC) leads the way with eight teams ranked in the pre-season Top 25, while the Pac-12 boasts six squads in the first poll. The Big 12 is represented by three teams in the pre-season poll and the American Athletic Conference (AAC), Big 10 and Sun Belt each have two. The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Conference USA each have one team among the Top 25.
The ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll is currently in its 12th year. Starting Feb. 11, regular season polls will be released for 14 consecutive Tuesdays with the final poll of the season to be released on June 10 following the NCAA WCWS. The first of 14 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Week accolades will also be announced on Feb. 11 with a new player chosen each Tuesday of the regular season.
In addition to conducting the ESPN.com/USA Softball collegiate Top 25 Poll and the USA Softball Player of the Week, ASA/USA Softball is also in the 13th season of the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award. The Top 50 Watch List for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year will be announced Jan. 29 with the Top 25 announced April 9, the Top 10 announced May 7 and the Top 3 announced May 21. The 2014 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year will be revealed May 27.
The Lady Vols enjoyed one of their finest seasons in program history in 2013, finishing as the national runner-up, making their sixth Women's College World Series appearance in nine years and posting their eighth 50-win season with a final record of 52-12. UT returns several key players from its 2013 WCWS Championship Series run, including All-American seniors Ellen Renfroe (2011, 2012) and Madison Shipman (2012, 2013). With 11 returning veterans and seven exciting newcomers, Tennessee is primed for another big season and has goals that culminate in Oklahoma City.
Tennessee opens the 2014 season on Feb. 7 against Northern Colorado in the Georgia Southern Tournament in Statesboro, Ga. The Lady Vols open their home slate with a doubleheader against Wright State on March 5. UT's first SEC home series is March 21-23 against South Carolina.