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College softball: Dixon, UMD tabbed fifth in NSIC preseason coaches’ poll

Bulldogs have strong local contingent in Cloquet’s Bender, Esko’s DeLeon, Superior’s Stariha and Duluth Denfeld’s Hovland.

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DULUTH — Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has been picked as the preseason favorite for the fourth consecutive season in the NSIC Preseason Softball Coaches’ Poll released Wednesday, Jan. 25.

Minnesota Duluth was picked to finish fifth in the 16-team league and has the preseason pitcher of the year in junior left-hander Lauren Dixon.

Augustana amassed 217 points and 10 first-place votes followed by Minnesota State Mankato with 208 points and three first-place votes. St. Cloud State and Winona State were tied for third with 186 points apiece, with St. Cloud State receiving the remaining three first-place votes, followed by UMD in fifth with 181 points.

The Bulldogs are coming off a season in which they went 39-16 overall and 22-8 in the NSIC, good for fifth under first-year head coach Lynn Anderson.

Dixon, of Sobieski, Wisconsin, went 17-9 in the circle with a 1.91 ERA and 212 strikeouts in 164 2/3 innings pitched. Opponents batted just .219 against her.

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Sidney Zavoral of Cottage Grove, Minnesota, was named UMD’s “player to watch” after finishing second on the team in batting average at .388, with a .400 on-base percentage, .488 slugging percentage, five home runs, 31 RBIs and 9 of 9 on stolen base attempts.

In addition, the Bulldogs have a handful of local products including Cloquet’s Kiana Bender (.331 BA, 44R, 13-2B, 9HR, 43RBIs), Esko’s Dea DeLeon (.333 BA, 23R, 13RBIs), Superior’s Mady Stariha (3-1, 3.00 ERA, 19K, BB, 32.2IP) and freshman outfielder Hanna Hovland of Duluth Denfeld.

UMD opens the season with a nonconference game against a conference opponent, Concordia-St. Paul, at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3, at the Mankato Dome Invite in Mankato.

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