The Gannon softball team has been picked to finish third in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Western Division according to the league’s preseason coaches poll released Thursday afternoon.

Defending PSAC West champion California (Pa.) is the preseason favorite, receiving seven of the eight first-place votes. Indiana (Pa.), Gannon, Mercyhurst and Slippery Rock completed the top five. The Lady Knights secured the final first-place vote. Edinboro, Seton Hill and Clarion rounded out the Western Division predictions.

Kutztown is the No. 1 choice in the Eastern Division with six first-place votes. The Golden Bears won the 2013 PSAC Tournament with a 10-7 victory against California (Pa.) in 10 innings. Bloomsburg, Shippensburg, West Chester and Lock Haven follow in second through fifth. Bloomsburg and Shippensburg received one first-place vote each. Mansfield , East Stroudsburg and Millersville rounded out the Eastern Division preseason poll.

Gannon returns 13 letterwinners and seven starting position players from last year’s 24-13 squad that finished second in the PSAC Western Division last season. The Lady Knights have posted three consecutive 20-win seasons, qualifying for the PSAC Tournament each year.

Six of Gannon’s top seven hitters from a year ago return in 2014. Alexa Archambeault (Horseheads, N.Y./Horseheads) led the team last season with a .415 average. Alyssa Bates (Greensburg, Pa./Hempfield) andKirstie Cortazzo (Jeannette, Pa./Jeannette) also return after hitting over .300 last season. Bates hit .364 with 19 runs, five home runs and 25 RBIs. Cortazzo batted .342 with a team-high 25 runs, four home runs and 29 RBIs.

Other returning starters in the field include Jess Rectenwald (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Hills) (.294, 23 runs, 18 RBIs), Meghan Cunha (North Kingsville, Ohio/Edgewood) (.267, 19 runs, 11 RBIs), Katie Dunn (Troy, Mich./Troy) (.261, 12 runs) and Caitlyn Colucci (Lancaster, N.Y./Sacred Heart) (.239, 21 runs, 15 RBIs).

Gannon will have a new look on the mound in 2014 due to the graduation of Megan Dragon and Erica Bartholow. The duo combined to pitch 73 percent of the Lady Knights’ innings and recorded 20 of the team’s 24 victories last season.

Returning pitchers include Alison Benz (Orchard Park, N.Y./Mt. Mercy Academy) and Rectenwald. Benz went 1-0 with a 2.74 ERA in 7 2/3 innings last season. Rectenwald was 3-5 with a 3.94 ERA in 58 2/3 innings.