Softball Opens 2013 Season at UNI Dome Tournament
Fresh Faces: Three of Illinois' five opponents are new to the Orange and Blue. Illinois has never played North Dakota State, Green Bay or Northern Iowa. The Illini are 0-3 against Alabama and 2-0 against Drake, but no current players have faced either, with the most recent matchup coming on Feb. 23, 2008, against Alabama.
First Time Indoors: This weekend's tournament marks the first time in Illinois history that the Illini will play a sanctioned competition indoors. The Orange and Blue have plenty of experience playing inside, however, practicing regularly throughout the winter at the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility.
UNI Dome Tournament History: This weekend's tournament is the 20th softball tournament to be played at the UNI Dome. Northern Iowa hosted the tournament every year from 1984-95, and again in 1997. After a 10-year hiatus, the Panthers reinstated the tournament in 2007, where they have opened every season since.
Facing No. 1: Illinois opens 2013 against No. 1 Alabama. Illinois is 0-8 against the top-ranked team, most-recently facing a No. 1 team three times in 2008. The Orange and Blue dropped a pair of games to No. 1 Alabama, 0-6 and 0-2, on Feb. 22-23, then fell to No. 1 Arizona State, 2-7, on Mar. 20.
The Illini's best game against a top-ranked team came on Apr. 3, 2005, at Michigan. Trailing 8-3 heading into the seventh, the Orange and Blue scored four runs on two outs, highlighted by a 3-run homer by Shanna Diller, but could not complete the comeback, falling 8-7.
The highest ranked team that could not defeat Illinois was No. 4 Oklahoma, who tied the Illini, 2-2, on Feb. 8, 2004, in the LSU Tiger Classic Championship game. The following season, the Orange and Blue defeated their highest ranked opponent to date, No.5 LSU, 5-3, on Feb. 12, 2005, in Las Vegas.
Illinois Has Tough 2013 Slate
In addition to the six ranked opponents, Illinois will face seven teams that received votes from the NFCA, four of which also received votes in the ESPN.com poll.
Of Illinois' 34 scheduled opponents, 14 qualified for the 2012 NCAA Tournament, six participated in Super Regionals and three advanced to the Women's College World Series (Alabama, California, USF). Additionally, `Bama and Cal finished the year #1 and #2 in the RPI, with a total of 13 Illinois opponents clocking in in the top 50.
Pepper Gay Named Preseason All-Big Ten
The Avondale Estates, Ga., native is poised to complete her career as the most decorated pitcher in Illinois history. A 2012 NFCA All-Region selection and two-time All-Big Ten honoree, Gay enters her final season with the best career opponent batting average in program history (.214), ranked second in career strikeouts (463), wins (58), saves (6) and complete games (46), and third in ERA (2.07), shutouts (14) and innings pitched (526.2).