Three weeks before the start of the season, the Stanford softball team earned the No. 9 ranking in the National Coaches Association preseason poll and the No. 10 slot in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25, it was announced on Tuesday.
Led by 2011 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Ashley Hansen, the Cardinal has 11 letter-winners returning from last year’s squad that finished 42-17 and was one win away from a berth in the Women’s College World Series.
A trio of juniors who were NFCA First Team All-West Region and All-Pac-10 selections last season will look to push Stanford over the top in John Rittman’s 16th season as head coach.
It won’t be easy in a loaded Pac-12. Seven of the conference’s nine teams are in the top 15 in the rankings, headlined by defending national champion and near-unanimous No. 1 Arizona State. Rival California comes in at No. 3, with No. 8 Arizona, No. 11 Oregon, No. 13 UCLA and No. 14 Washington the other conference squads expected to contend with the Card.
Stanford will get plenty of opportunities to test itself against the country’s top competition, opening the season at the Kajikawa Classic on Feb. 10 and setting up a potential top-10 showdown with No. 5 Oklahoma at the Cathedral City Classic two weeks later on Feb. 24.