Coming off its first postseason victory since 2008, the Howard Payne Lady Jackets softball program will be targeting its third consecutive appearance in the American Southwest Conference tournament as HPU is tabbed to finish sixth in the conference race, according to the preseason coaches and media poll released Thursday.
The ASC has expanded its softball championship tournament field to eight teams, up from six in years past, despite the smaller, revamped single division, 12-team conference format. The top seed from the regular season will host the double-elimination conference tournament May 1-3.
Howard Payne (21-21, 15-9) received 225 points in the poll, which trailed conference favorite UT-Tyler (47-6, 23-1), East Texas Baptist (37-12, 18-6), Mary Hardin-Baylor (29-16, 17-7), Louisiana College (26-15, 13-11) and UT-Dallas (23-18, 12-12).
Picked to finish behind the Lady Jackets are Concordia (25-15, 14-10) and Hardin-Simmons (12-25, 10-14), while LeTourneau (21-19, 8-16), Mississippi College (8-31, 6-18), Ozarks (14-26, 4-20) and Sul Ross (9-30, 4-20) are not expected to qualify for the postseason.
The regular season begins Feb. 6 for the Lady Jackets with a home doubleheader against Pacific University, followed by a home twin bill against Austin College on Feb. 7. The 33-game conference schedule begins Feb. 14 as Howard Payne hosts LeTourneau for the first of 11 three-game weekend sets.