The Howard Payne Lady Jackets softball team is tabbed to place fifth in the six-team American Southwest Conference West Division race, according to the preseason coaches and media poll released Thursday.
According to the ASC website, the conference is returning to division play for the first time since 2013. The top two teams from each division and four at-large teams will advance to the ASC championship tournament April 30-May 2, hosted by the team with the best winning percentage regardless of division.
The Lady Jackets (17-22, 13-14) received 53 points in the poll, two more than McMurry's (13-25, 8-19) total of 51. Howard Payne trails ASC West favorite Mary Hardin-Baylor (28-16, 21-6) with 136 points and 19 first-place votes, Hardin-Simmons (21-23, 14-13) with 106 points and three first-place votes, Sul Ross (21-10, 13-13) with 91 points and one first-place vote, and Concordia (15-25, 10-17) with 70 points and one first-place vote.
Lady Jacket senior shortstop Aurora Luera and senior catcher Kayla Hill were two of the 35 named to the ASC Players to Watch List.
In the ASC East, the favorite is East Texas Baptist (39-6, 26-1) with 141 points and 21 first-place votes followed by LeTourneau (24-17, 18-12) with 105 points and two first-place votes, UT-Dallas (17-21, 12-14) with 87 points and one first-place vote, Louisiana College (21-10, 11-16) with 81 points, Belhaven (15-25, 9-18) with 59 points, and Ozarks (12-28, 9-21) with 27 points.
HPU opens the season Feb. 8 at home with a doubleheader against Austin College. The Lady Jackets' conference slate begins Feb. 21-22 with three games against East Texas Baptist in Brownwood.