Head coach Terri Sullivan scheduled another difficult campaign for the Illini in her 13th year at the helm of the program.
Feb. 3, 2012
URBANA, Ill. - For twelve seasons, Illinois softball head coach Terri Sullivan has carried the philosophy that to be the best, you should have to beat the best. Final rankings for the 2011 season had her Illini squad's Strength of Schedule RPI at No. 13 in the nation, and 2012 is no different. During the season, the Illini will face twelve 2011 NCAA Tournament participants over 18 total games and battle five teams ranked in the 2012 NFCA Preseason Top-25.
"Our players come to Illinois knowing that we will play anyone, anywhere, anytime! They know that they will be challenged daily, first at practice, and then with our aggressive scheduling," Sullivan said. "Competitors want that, and we love competitors! The goal is that we improve individually and collectively each time we take the field, and that we will be playing our best team ball at the end of the year."
The first tournament of the season looks to be one of the more challenging ones as Illinois opens at the Florida International Combat Classic from Feb. 10-12 in Miami. Illinois will face its first challenge during its first game, as the Orange and Blue open against a team they face three times on the year in Massachusetts and two-time All-American pitcher Sara Plourde. In Miami, the Illini will also face No. 25 Louisville and 2011 NCAA Tournament participant Alabama-Birmingham.
"I've never been a big fan of dipping your toe in the water," Sullivan said. "We built our program with players that want to jump right in and play big games against anyone, anytime, anywhere. That is especially true with my team this year."
Next up the Illini participate in the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational, played at the University of Texas from Feb. 17-19. Among the five games in Austin, the Orange and Blue will face No. 14 Tennessee and host-No. 18 Texas before traveling to Clearwater, Fla., for the NFCA Leadoff Classic, held from Feb. 24-26.
Illinois continues its season at the Eller Media Stadium Classic on the campus of UNLV in Las Vegas, before returning to Clearwater to take part in the USF Under Armour Invitational at the University of South Florida from March 16-18. The Illini will face UMass for the third time during competition, while also battling 2011 NFCAA Tournament participants Maryland and Tennessee-Chattanooga. UTC is coming off one of its best seasons ever, reaching the finale of the Tuscaloosa, Ala., NCAA Regional one year ago.
"We have worked hard to build a national recruiting base, so it's only fitting that we play a national schedule," Sullivan said. "One of the great advantages of being at Illinois and in the Big Ten Conference, in addition to great academics and facilities, is access to financial resources that allows us to schedule so aggressively."
Following tournament action, the Illini continue their non-conference slate and begin Big Ten play. Regional rivals Illinois State and DePaul will serve as the toughest tests among all non-conference games. Both squads are coming off appearances in the NCAA Tournament Columbus, Mo., regional, which DePaul reached the finale of.
With Nebraska joining the Big Ten, Illinois will now face eight of the 11 possible conference opponents for three-game series. The Big Ten road schedule includes visits to No. 15 Michigan and No. 21 Nebraska.
At home on Eichelberger Field, the Illini will face four Big Ten opponents while hosting four additional non-conference foes. Home action will be highlighted by a weekend series against Penn State, an NCAA Tournament team one season ago, while World's Largest Softball Tailgate 2012 will be hosted during the doubleheader with the Nittany Lions on Saturday, May 5. For the second consecutive season, admission to all Illini softball contests on Eichelberger Field will be free.
"Our fan base has been great and we love playing in front of 'the sea of orange,'" Sullivan said. "The World's Largest Softball Tailgate weekend has grown into an awesome annual event that draws a fun and raucous crowd every year, including our many alumni and their families. In order to fulfill our goal of winning a Big Ten Championship, we need to defend our home turf. I look forward to our fans showing up in record numbers again to help us achieve that goal."
The 2012 NCAA Tournament begins with Regionals from May 17-20, and Super Regionals occurring from May 24-27, both held at various campus sites. The 2012 Women's College World Series will be played at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla., from May 31-June 6.