The Linfield Wildcats begin the 2011 season as the No. 1 ranked team in NCAA Division III, according to preseason poll released Wednesday by National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
The Wildcats received seven of a possible eight first-place votes and 199 total poll points.
Linfield is coming off a 42-7 campaign in 2010. The Wildcats were tantalizingly close to winning the national championship before falling by one run to East Texas Baptist in the title game.
Eastern Connecticut is ranked second in the preseason poll, followed by perennial powers Louisiana College and DePauw (Ind.). Luther (Iowa) rounds out the top 5.
East Texas Baptist is rated 10th and received the lone remaining first-place vote. Northwest Conference contender Willamette sits at No. 20.
The Wildcats return to the top spot in the poll they last occupied during portions of the 2009 campaign.
Coach Jackson Vaughan returns eight starting position players, including five All-Americans, as well as two first team all-conference pitchers from a team that set the NCAA Division III record by hitting 78 home runs. The Wildcats are seeking their eighth consecutive conference title and 16th straight 20-win season.
The National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division III Top 25 poll is voted on by eight NCAA Division III head coaches representing the eight NCAA regions.