The UNI Panthers have been picked to finish third in what is expected to be a competitive three-way race for the Missouri Valley Conference softball title this season.

Just two points separate the Panthers from league favorite Illinois State, which returns all but two starters from a team that shared the regular season crown with UNI in 2017. The Redbirds earned two first-place votes and garnered 88 points in a survey of the league's coaches. UNI got three first-place votes, but received 86 points after losing four players to graduation.

The coaches predicted Southern Illinois would finish second in the Valley standings. The Salukis received three first-place votes and 87 points. Like Illinois State, they return seven starters after winning the 2017 MVC Tournament championship.

  • To view the Preseason poll and MVC Preseason All-Conference selections, CLICK HERE.

Two UNI players were selected to the 2018 MVC Preseason All-Conference Team. Sophomore Jaclyn Spencer, a Waterloo West High School product, is one of three pitchers on the 13-player squad. Spencer is joined by sophomore teammate Sammey Bunch, a shortstop from Frankenstein, Mo. Last season, Bunch led the Panthers in seven different offensive categories (batting average, slugging pct., runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases and stolen bases), and was named MVC Freshman of the Year.

UNI is scheduled to open its 2018 season at home, hosting the UNI-Dome Classic the second weekend in February. The Panthers’ first game in the six-team event is against Southeast Missouri State on Feb. 9.

Courtesy: UNI Athletics