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WKU pitcher Kelsey Aikey (12) winds up to pitch against North Texas on April 14. Aikey pitched all five innings of the 8-0 victory, allowing only one hit in 104 pitches. CHRIS KOHLEY/HERALD

The WKU softball team was predicted to finish second in the Conference USA Preseason Coaches Poll, the league office announced on Thursday.

The Hilltoppers received two first-place votes from the league’s 12 head coaches, earning their highest preseason ranking in their time in the league.

Additionally, senior pitcher Kelsey Aikey and junior catcher Kendall Smith were selected to the C-USA Preseason All-Conference Team.

North Texas was predicted to win the league this season, collecting nine of the 12 first-place votes. WKU came in second while Louisiana Tech and Marshall tied for third. 

Alabama-Birmingham, Middle Tennessee State, Southern Mississippi and Florida Atlantic were picked to round out the postseason tournament field, respectively.

Closing out the rankings were Florida International, Texas-San Antonio, Texas-El Paso and Charlotte in the last four spots.

Aikey and Smith are the first Hilltoppers to earn Preseason All-C-USA honors since Miranda Kramer and Dani Pugh in 2015. Smith was a First Team All-Conference selection last May while Aikey was voted to the league’s Second Team.

Behind the plate, Smith was an NFCA All-Region selection in her sophomore season on the Hill. She hit a .321/.423/.650 on the season with a s 1.073 OPS.

The Bowling Green native tallied seven two-hit games and three three-hit outings in addition to nine two-RBI, three three-RBI and two four-RBI showings. She finished the season with eight doubles, a triple and 12 home runs to go along with a .991 fielding percentage and eight runners thrown out stealing. With two outs on her, Smith delivered 19 RBI and a .362 batting average.

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Freshman catcher Kendall Smith catches a pitch during the Mar 2 game against Austin Peay. Smith is a three-time All-State selection.

Last year, Aikey became the first Hilltopper pitcher to collect any sort of All-Conference honors since the 2015 campaign. The Cedar Falls, Iowa, native led C-USA in opposing batting average (.185), hits allowed per seven innings (4.67), strikeouts per seven innings (9.7) — which was eighth in the nation — and saves (6).

Aikey was one of just four pitchers across the NCAA, and only in the league, with at least 14 wins and six saves. Her 2.15 overall ERA ranked second across all C-USA pitchers with 100+ innings thrown and third overall while she racked up 184 strikeouts.

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Junior pitcher Kelsey Aikey is WKU's all-time leader in saves and has accumulated an 8-6 record this season.

Last season, the duo helped the Hilltoppers put up a 37-13 record for the best winning percentage in the program's 20th season.

Throughout the campaign, the Hilltoppers posted a double-digit win streak on two separate occasions and would close the regular season with an 18-6 record in league play.

The WKU Softball Complex will host the 2020 C-USA Softball Championship, set for May 6-9 in Bowling Green.

The eight-team tournament will include the top three teams, by winning percentage, in both the East and West Division standings, as well as two Wild Card teams from either unit.

The Hilltoppers are set to open their 2020 campaign against Lipscomb on Feb. 7, as the two teams will square off for the first of their three meetings on the year in Troy, Alabama.

Reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at kaden.gaylord559@topper.wku.edu. Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.

Kaden Gaylord is the softball beat reporter for the College Heights Herald. He previously covered the women's volleyball team and the baseball team.