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With the 2012 softball season set to begin Thursday, here are some numbers to consider:
2: Alabama's five-member freshman class includes two 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year winners from their respective states, Leslie Jury (South Carolina) and Jadyn Spencer (Iowa). Jury, a six-foot pitcher, led the Gold Goast Hurricanes Gold travel team to top-five finishes at ASA Gold Nationals in 2009 and 2011. The Rolling Tide's pitching staff will consist of Jury, All-American Jackie Traina and Lauren Sewell, who pitched just 20 innings last season. Spencer, a 5-10 utility player, holds the Iowa state record for career home runs (54), and was also a McDonald's All-American honorable mention in basketball.
5: In seven years as Arizona State's head coach, Clint Myers has coached the Sun Devils to five Women's College World Series appearances and two national championships (2008 and 2011). With pitcher Dallas Escobedo back after a dominant freshman season, there's no reason to think Myers and the Sun Devils can't make it six in eight years.
4: Four players who hit 20 or more home runs in 2011 return this season, and they all hail from schools in the southeast: Louisiana-Lafayette's Christi Orgeron (23), Florida's Brittany Schutte (22), Georgia Tech's Kelsi Weseman and Troy's Nikki Hollett (20). Orgeron, Schutte and Weseman were all selected to the 2012 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award Watch List.
6: The ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 preseason poll features six teams each from the Pac-12, Big 12 and SEC. With three teams ranked in the top-10 (No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Florida and No. 9 Tennessee), is this the year that the SEC wins its first national championship? The SEC is no stranger to high spots in the rankings the last few years, but in order to win it all, it will need to improve on its 2011 performance against the Big 12 (10-12) and Pac-12 (15-14).
8: Eight of the nine Big 12 schools return their top pitcher from 2011. Among these eight are Baylor's Whitney Canion, Oklahoma's Keilani Ricketts and Missouri's Chelsea Thomas, who all played for Team USA last summer.