CALDWELL, NJ – The Caldwell University softball team, which has been ranked 15th nationally, was actually predicted to finish first in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) this spring as the league released its Softball Preseason Poll this week. Wilmington, which won the CACC Tournament last year, finished second in the poll with 157 points, followed closely by Georgian Court with 153 points. NOTE: Click on the photo in the gallery above to see the Poll.

The Cougars, who won the CACC regular season last year and advanced to the finals of the NCAA Division II East Region Tournament, received 12 first-place votes and 194 points in the poll. The preseason poll is voted on by the conference’s 14 head coaches.

Caldwell, coached by Dean Johnson, set the program record for most conference wins with a 24-2 mark in the CACC last season, while also tying the school record for most victories in a season by finishing, 45-9 overall.

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The Cougars also won the Adelphi bracket at the East Region Tournament before falling to LIU Post in the regional finals. Thirteen players return from that team, including nine all-CACC performers. Junior pitcher Amber Padilla (Chino, CA/Pomona Catholic), the 2014 CACC Pitcher of the Year, is back after posting a 19-6 record last year. Sophomore pitcher Sydney Ponto (West Deptford, NJ/West Deptford) made the all-CACC first team as a freshman.

In the field, Caldwell has five players who are on the 50-player watch list for NFCA National Player of the Year including 2014 All-Americans Kristen Knorr (Monroeville, NJ/Delsea) and Brielle Reighn (Runnemeade, NJ/Triton Regional). Senior catcher Alyssa Calderon (Fontana, CA/Etiwanda), who was the 2013 CACC Player of the Year, senior shortstop Megan Fryday (San Marcos, CA/Mission Hills) and junior outfielder Caitlin McCready (Jupiter, FL/Dwyer) also made the watch list.

The Cougars’ other returning all-CACC players are sophomore second baseman Lauren Frye (Jupiter, FL/Jupiter) and sophomore outfielder Amy Hickman (Jackson, NJ/Jackson Liberty).

Caldwell opens the 2015 season on Mar. 13 at the St. Leo University Tournament in St. Leo, Fla.