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Kentucky softball ranked in pre-season for first time

Rachel Riley, left, and Brittany Cervantes, right, were congratulated after scoring in the Cats' NCAA Tournament win over California in May. UK lost to Cal in the doubleheader's second game.
Rachel Riley, left, and Brittany Cervantes, right, were congratulated after scoring in the Cats' NCAA Tournament win over California in May. UK lost to Cal in the doubleheader's second game.

The University of Kentucky is ranked in both major college softball pre-season polls released Tuesday, the first time ever the Cats have been voted into a pre-season top 25.

Kentucky is ranked No. 13 in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll and No. 18 in the ESPN.com/USA SoftballCollegiate Top 25 Pre-season poll.

Kentucky, led by fifth-year head coach Rachel Lawson, was one of six Southeastern Conference schools ranked in both polls.

Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and Louisiana State joined Kentucky in the top 25. Missouri and Texas A&M, which will join the SEC next season, also earned recognition in both polls.

"We are very appreciative of the early recognition," Lawson said. "It is our program's intention to not only live up to this expectation, but to also build throughout the season in the hope of exceeding it."

Kentucky ended last season No. 12 and No. 13 in the two polls after a run to the NCAA's super-regional round of 16, also a first for the UK program.

Fifteen letter winners will return from that squad, including the entire pitching staff. Seniors Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley form the winningest pitching tandem in UK history.

Senior Brittany Cervantes already owns the Wildcats' career home-run record with 35 in three seasons and is on pace to shatter the school's RBI record.

Junior Kara Dill and sophomore Emily Jolly were All-Southeastern Conference performers last season.

Kentucky opens the 2012 season Feb. 9 at UCLA in the Stacy Winsbery Memorial Tournament.

The Wildcats' home opener is March 9 vs. Alabama.

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