IRVING, Texas – Three East Carolina players earned places on the Preseason All-Conference USA Softball Team, which was announced by the league office Wednesday afternoon. Senior outfielder Suzanne Riggs, sophomore designated player Jill Jelnick and sophomore infielder Kristi Oshiro received the honor for the Pirates.
As a team, ECU was picked to finish fifth in C-USA, trailing Tulsa, Houston, UAB and Memphis. The top five squads in the preseason poll finished in the top five of the 2011 regular season standings. Individually, the Pirates had the second-most all-league selections, trailing only Tulsa’s four.
Riggs, one of just two seniors on the East Carolina squad, broke out in 2011 after returning to full health and earning a spot in the everyday starting lineup. She was a Second-Team All-Conference USA honoree a year ago after leading the Pirates in runs batted in (35), doubles (eight), home runs (four), total bases (74) and slugging percentage (.438). The local D.H. Conley graduate ranked second on the team in batting average (.296), on-base percentage (.415), hits (50) and walks (31) while ending the campaign second in C-USA in walks, fifth in RBI, sixth in OBP and 13th in hits.
Jelnick turned in a strong freshman season, steadily improving as the campaign continued. She earned Second-Team All-Conference USA honors as a utility player as well as Conference USA All-Freshman Team and Conference USA All-Tournament Team accolades. She was one of just four C-USA freshmen to earn all-league honors in 2011. Proving her versatility, the Aliso Viejo, Calif., native experienced action in 54 games and started 39 - 22 in right field, 14 at second base and three as the designated player. During the second half of the season, Jelnick was ECU’s top hitter, posting a .304 average to go along with 24 hits, 14 walks, 13 runs scored and eight driven in.
Oshiro joined Jelnick on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team and was the Pirates’ offensive leader for the majority of the season. She paced the squad in batting average (.314), hits (58), walks (40), runs scored (37) and on-base percentage (.436) while tying for the top spot in doubles (eight). In addition to leading the team, the Mililani, Hawai’i, product topped C-USA in plate appearances (233) and free passes. Oshiro became the first Pirate to collect more than 35 hits, walks and runs during a season since Kate Manuse (77 H/55 BB/40 R) in 2005.
Houston senior outfielder Melissa Gregson was tabbed as the league’s preseason player-of-the-year after winning the award at the end of the 2011 campaign. Conference USA’s Preseason Pitcher-of-the-Year nod went to Tulsa’s Aimee Creger, who was the league’s freshman-of-the-year and a First-Team All-C-USA selection in 2011.
East Carolina, which received national attention this week by garnering eight votes in the USA Today/NFCA and preseason poll, begins the 2012 season two weeks from Friday hosting the Pirate Classic from Feb. 10-12.
Conference USA Preseason Poll (1st-place votes)
1. Tulsa (7) 79
2. Houston (1) 67
3. UAB (1) 60
4. Memphis 52
5. East Carolina 39
6. UCF 33
7. Southern Miss 32
8. Marshall 27
9. UTEP 16
Preseason All-Conference USA Team
P - Aimee Creger, Tulsa, So.
P - Carly Hummel, Memphis, Jr.
C - Rebecca Gamby, Marshall, Sr.
INF - Samantha Cobb, Tulsa, Jr.
INF - Holly Anderson, Houston, Jr.
INF - Natalie Land, UCF, Sr.
INF - Jessica Phillips, Memphis, Sr.
INF - Jill Barrett, Tulsa, So.
INF - Kristi Oshiro, East Carolina, So.
OF - Caitlin Everett, Tulsa, Jr.
OF - Leslie LeJune, Southern Miss, Sr.
OF - Suzanne Riggs, East Carolina, Sr.
OF - Melissa Gregson, Houston, Sr.
DP - Jill Jelnick, East Carolina, So.
UT - Chelsea Troupe, UTEP, Sr.
Preseason Player of the Year
Melissa Gregson, Houston, Sr.
Preseason Pitcher of the Year
Aimee Creger, Tulsa, So.