ETSU softball had three players earn preseason Southern Conference honors as the league office announced its awards on Thursday. Sophomore second baseman Lauren Lee (Cleveland, Tenn.) and senior designated player Taylor Wright (Erwin, Tenn.) were placed on the first team and junior third baseman Nikki Grupp (Jacksonville, Fla.) landed a spot on the second team.
Wright, who earned second team all-conference honors at the end of last season, had a banner year where she set career highs in every statistical category after starting in 43 games for the Blue and Gold. The Erwin, Tenn. native hit .324 (36-111) with four doubles, five home runs, 14 walks and 28 RBI, while posting .495 slugging and .405 on-base percentages. Wright ranked eighth in the SoCon in batting average and ninth in on-base percentage, while leading the Bucs in batting average, slugging and on-base percentage, RBI and walks. Wright also led the Blue and Gold in multi-hit (9) and multi-RBI (8) games.
Lee gave the Bucs a spark in her first season where she earned a spot on the SoCon All-Freshman Team and the SoCon All-Tournament Team. The Buccaneer middle infielder led the team in hits (42) and ranked second in batting average (.316). Lee played in 39 games in her first season – 33 at second and six at shortstop – and committed only three errors in 128 chances. Lee posted at least one hit in 28 games and hit over .300 during her entire rookie season. The Cleveland, Tenn. native also posted hits in eight of her 10 conference games played, while she hit .333 (7-21) with two doubles and three runs scored in the SoCon Tournament.
Grupp started 44 games at third for the Blue and Gold in 2018, while leading the team in runs scored (26), doubles (9) and total bases (59), and ranking second in home runs (5). The Jacksonville, Fla. native also registered nine multi-hit games, which was tied for the team lead. Grupp hit a solo home run in the opening round game of the SoCon Tournament to help propel the Bucs to a win over Furman, while she combined for four hits and four runs scored in a doubleheader versus Samford on March 25.
Despite reaching the SoCon Championship game in back-to-back years – along with winning the title in 2017 – ETSU was still picked to finish sixth in the preseason coaches’ poll. UNCG, the reigning regular season and tournament champion, was pegged the preseason favorite, with Mercer and Chattanooga rounding out the top three slots. UNCG received four first-place votes and totaled 33 points, while Mercer (27 points) and Chattanooga (22 points) each picked up a first-place vote. Samford (21 points), who went 7-9 in the SoCon last season, also received a first-place nod and was picked fourth and Furman was selected fifth (20 points). The Bucs totaled 18 points and Western Carolina was picked to finish seventh with six points.
The Bucs open the 2019 season on Saturday, Feb. 9, when ETSU takes on Morgan State in the first game of the Blue Hose Invitational in Clinton, S.C.