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Sooners Enter Season As Top-Ranked Team In The Country For First Time

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

Coming off the program’s third national title, the Oklahoma softball team is the unanimous No. 1 in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Preseason Coaches Poll, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association announced Tuesday. It marks the first time in program history that the Sooners enter the season as the top-ranked team in the country.

Previously, OU’s best preseason ranking was No. 2, which occurred in 2014, 2013 and 2002. Additionally, this is just the fourth time in the poll’s history, which dates back to 1995, that there has been a unanimous No. 1 in the preseason poll. Oklahoma received all 32 first-place votes to join Arizona State in 2012, Washington in 2010 and Arizona in 1998 as the only teams to earn the distinction.

Oklahoma is one of four teams along with Michigan, UCLA and Washington to be ranked in every single NFCA Preseason Poll; the Sooners’ average preseason rank is 8.0. OU also kept up its run of being ranked every week in the 23-year existence of the NFCA’s poll, 322 weeks in all.

Overall, the Sooners rank third in NFCA history with 17 top-10 appearances in the preseason poll and are tied for third with nine top-five appearances.

This is the seventh straight season that the Sooners have started ranked in the NFCA’s Top 10, which is the second longest active streak in the country behind Alabama (12). In fact, OU has been ranked in the top five in five of the past six years, which is tied with Alabama and Florida for the most over that stretch.

Oklahoma’s 2017 schedule features seven teams ranked in the NFCA Preseason Poll, including three in the top 10.

In the Sooners’ opening weekend, OU faces No. 2 Auburn in a Women’s College World Series Championship Series rematch on ESPNU and is also slated to meet No. 13 Washington. Other ranked opponents include No. 8 UCLA, No. 10 Arizona, No. 15 Tennessee and No. 22 Notre Dame. BYU, Nebraska, Ole Miss and Tulsa also received votes in the poll.

Within the Big 12, Baylor came in at No. 21, while Oklahoma State and Texas were receiving votes.

The five-time defending Big 12 champions, Oklahoma returns six of its seven All-Big 12 honorees from last season, including Paige Parker (Big 12 Pitcher of the Year), Shay Knighten (Big 12 Freshman of the Year) and Kelsey Arnold (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year). In addition, seven of OU’s eight all-region selections will be back for the 2017 season as will two of its three All-Americans (Parker and Knighten).

The Sooners also welcome in seven newcomers, including five freshmen and two transfers. The freshman class consists of infielder Alissa Dalton, outfielder Vanessa Taukeiaho, pitchers Mariah Lopez and Melanie Olmos and utility player Nicole Mendes. Pitcher Paige Lowary has transferred to Oklahoma after spending her first two seasons at Missouri, while catcher Hannah Sparks joins OU after two seasons at Northwest Florida State College.

The USA Today/NFCA Division I Softball Coaches Poll is voted on by 32 NCAA Division I head coaches, one representing each conference.

The ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll is voted on by coaching representatives of 10 Division I Conferences in the 15 ASA/USA Softball Regions as well as members of the national and local media who consistently cover Division I Softball across the country.

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