The University of Kentucky softball team delivered its finest season ever in 2014, but even if it matches that performance in 2015 the competition isn't running scared.
The Southeastern Conference coaches voted Kentucky to finish in third place in the league this season — a more-than-acceptable consequence for the Cats considering the strength of the opposition.
Kentucky reached its first-ever College World Series in 2014. That World Series saw Florida defeat Alabama in a matchup of SEC teams for the national championship.
The Gators, who will start this season as the nation's No. 1 team, received 11 first-place votes from SEC coaches in being named preseason league favorite.
The Crimson Tide finished No. 2 in the voting. Following were Kentucky, LSU and Georgia. UK and Georgia were the only schools other than Florida to receive a first-place vote in the 13-team league. Vanderbilt does not field a softball squad.
The predicted order of finish is the highest ever for the Wildcats, who finished tied for sixth in the conference last season before advancing to the SEC Tournament championship game. Kentucky, 50-19 last season, returns 13 letter winners from that squad, including six starters and three pitchers. The Cats are led by pitcher Kelsey Nunley, who was named Wednesday to USA Softball's Collegiate Player of the Year award watch list.
Kentucky is ranked No. 6 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association preseason poll and seventh in the ESPN.com/USA Softball rankings.
Kentucky opens its 2015 season Feb. 5 against Florida A&M in Tallahassee, Fla.
SEC COACHES' POLL
(First-place votes in parentheses)
Rk. School Points
1. Florida (11) 143
2. Alabama 120
3. Kentucky (1) 115
4. Louisiana State 103
5. Georgia (1) 102
6. Missouri 98
7. Auburn 85
8. Tennessee 76
9. Texas A&M 48
10. South Carolina 46
11. Mississippi State 42
12. Arkansas 21
13. Mississippi 15
Note: Vanderbilt does not field a softball team.