By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Among the west’s best in recent seasons, Sonoma State’s softball team again is expected to contend for an NCAA playoff berth.
Led by two-time All-American pitcher Samantha Lipperd, Sonoma State was picked to finish third in the California Collegiate Athletic Conference in a vote of league coaches. The top four teams at the end of league play qualify for the conference tournament.
Defending conference champion Cal State Dominguez Hills was the coaches’ pick to capture this season’s title. Cal State Monterey Bay was just ahead of Sonoma State with UC San Diego fourth in the preseason poll.
Leading the list of seven returning starters is Lipperd. The senior from Boulder Creek led the nation in strikeouts a year ago. Named the 2012 Daktronics, Inc. West Region Pitcher of the Year, Lipperd set 12 school pitching records.
Also back for the Seawolves is Hayley Condon, an All-West Region selection. The junior second baseman is from Santa Monica.
Five other starters return from last season’s NCAA West Regional Tournament team: Vanessa Currie, outfielder, from San Diego; Danielle D’Eccliss, outfielder, from Los Alamitos; Megan Konieczka, outfielder, from Lake Forest; Ali Palermo, first baseman, from Redwood City; and Ancia Purdy, shortstop, from Huntington Beach.
Sonoma State is led by fourth-year head coach Jennifer Bridges. The Seawolves have reached the NCAA tournament each of Bridges’ first three campaigns and won CCAA tournament titles in 2010 and 2011.
SSU’s season opens with a doubleheader against Academy of Art in Rohnert Park on Feb. 6. Two days later Sonoma State travels to Las Vegas for a five-game tournament.