Aleah Craighton, Haley Hayden, DJ Sanders and Alex Stewart represented Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Softball on the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference team, which was announced Monday by the conference office. Craighton was chosen the Preseason Player of the Year.
Louisiana is one of four Sun Belt schools to place multiple selections on the list, leading the way with a conference-high four picks. The Preseason All-SBC team is voted on by the conference’s 10 head coaches and consists of 15 players.
Last season, Craighton, Sanders and Stewart were named first team All-Sun Belt and Hayden was a second team choice.
Craighton is coming off an All-American campaign in 2016, receiving second team NFCA All-America honors after setting personal bests in doubles (12), home runs (18), RBI (56), extra base hits (32) and slugging percentage (.851). In Sun Belt Conference games, she led the league in slugging percentage (1.069), on base percentage (.593), runs (33) and home runs (11). She capped the year by going 6-for-9 with nine RBI in the Sun Belt Tournament to earn the Most Outstanding Player accolade.
Hayden is a three-time All-Sun Belt Conference and NFCA All-Central Region selection, and a career .360-hitter. She posted at least one base hit in 45 of 55 games, had 10 different hitting streaks – ending season with an 11-game hit streak – and went the entire season without consecutive hitless games last season. The West Monroe product led the team with 19 multiple-hit games.
Sanders, a two-time USA Softball Women’s National Team Selection Camp invitee, was a first team All-Sun Belt performer and second team NFCA All-Central Region pick last season. The Ragin’ Cajuns’ starting shortstop saw a significant increase in power (from four home runs as a freshman to 18) and run production (from 27 RBI as a freshman to 58) during the 2016 season.
The reigning Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year, Stewart ranked No. 5 nationally in victories and was second team All-American choice in 2016. The Zionsville, Ind., native emerged as the team’s lead pitcher, appearing in 41 games with 38 starts and compiling a 29-6 record with a 1.94 ERA. She posted a 13-0 start in Sun Belt play to lead the Ragin’ Cajuns to the conference title by April 30 and ended the season with a Sun Belt-best 16 victories in conference play (16-1, 0.66 ERA).
The Sun Belt Conference will conclude its preseason awards next Monday (Jan. 30) with the release of the predicted order of finish of the conference standings.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, 46-9 during the 2016 season, are coming off of a fifth straight appearance in the NCAA Super Regionals. They enter the 2017 season as the three-time defending Sun Belt Conference champion and have claimed 14 titles overall in the 16 years of league competition since 2001.
Louisiana begins the 2017 season with a 23-game homestand at Lamson Park which opens Feb. 10 and features three tournaments, a Top 25 weekend series against Alabama (Feb. 17-19) and a midweek doubleheader with Baylor (March 7).
Season tickets are currently on sale and can be purchased by phone at (337) 265-2357, online at RaginCajuns.com using Account Manager, or by visiting the Cajundome Box Office in-person Monday-Friday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and extended hours during Ragin’ Cajuns basketball events.
For more information on Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Softball, as well as all of Ragin’ Cajuns Athletics, visit RaginCajuns.com. Fans can also follow along with the team on Facebook (/RaginCajunSoftball),Twitter (@RaginCajunsSB) and Instagram (@RaginCajunsSoftball).
2017 Softball Preseason All-Conference Team
Ivie Drake (Georgia State, Junior, C)
Mandy Blackwell (Georgia State, Senior, 1B)
Haley Hayden (Louisiana, Senior, 2B)
Kaleigh Todd (South Alabama, Junior, 2B)
Sandra Mendoza (UT Arlington, Junior, 2B)
DJ Sanders (Louisiana, Junior, SS)
Corrina Liscano (Texas State, Senior, 3B)
Taty Forbes (Coastal Carolina, Sophomore, OF)
Aleah Craighton (Louisiana, Junior, OF)
Rochelle Roberts (ULM, Senior, OF)
Megan Litumbe (Georgia State, Redshirt Junior, DP)
Dixie Raley (Georgia Southern, Sophomore, P)
Alex Stewart (Louisiana, Senior, P)
Devin Brown (South Alabama, Junior, P)
Randi Rupp (Texas State, Junior, P)
Preseason Player of the Year
Aleah Craighton (Louisiana, Junior, OF)
Preseason Pitcher of the Year
Randi Rupp (Texas State, Junior)