Urbana, Ill. - Head Softball Coach Terri Sullivan discusses the upcoming 2013 schedule. Illinois will face a challenging slate this spring, opening the season on Feb. 8, 2013, against Defending National Champion Alabama at an indoor tournament in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
The Illini will play 55 regular-season games against 34 different opponents.
Of Illinois' 34 opponents, 14 qualified for the 2012 NCAA Tournament and six participated in the Super Regionals.
The Illini will face three of the eight teams featured at the 2012 Women's College World Series: Alabama, California and South Florida.
The Illini open the season against Defending National Champion Alabama in Iowa.
Illinois will face seven teams that were ranked in the final 2012 NFCA Coaches' poll, with an additional two receiving votes.
The Orange and Blue will face three teams that finished in the RPI top 10, including #1 Alabama and #2 California, with 13 opponents ranked in the top 50.
Illinois will battle four regular-season conference champions and two additional conference tournament champions, facing three of them in the first weekend.
Of its non-conference opponents, Illinois plays five from the MVC, including the top-four finishers, and three each from the SEC, Pac-12 and BIG EAST.
Similar to the men's basketball "Bragging Rights" game, the Illini will square off with No. 11 Missouri in a neutral-site double header in Saint Louis on Mar. 20.
The 10th-Annual Worlds Largest Softball Tailgate will be held on May 4 vs. Ohio State.
Illinois will travel to Iowa, Texas, California and Florida for non-conference tournaments.
The Illini open the season at the UNI Dome Tournament, where they will play in their first-ever indoor tournament.
The Orange and Blue will host the first-annual Fighting Illini Invitational on Mar. 15-17, featuring Saint Louis, Loyola-Chicago and Western Michigan.
In addition to the home tournament, the Illini will host 15 regular-season games at Eichelberger Field.
Illinois begins the Big Ten season at home against Wisconsin on Mar. 22
The 2012 Big Ten schedule features 23 conference games:
Illinois will host Wisconsin, Nebraska, Indiana and Ohio State in three-game series, played Friday-Saturday-Sunday.
The Illini will play three-game road series at Northwestern, Minnesota and Michigan State, plus a double header at Iowa.
Illinois will not face Penn State, Michigan or Purdue in the regular season.
The Big Ten Tournament returns for the first time since 2008:
Nebraska will host the tournament on May 9-12.
All 12 teams will qualify.
Single-elimination format with the top-four regular-season finishers earning a first-round bye.
The winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
On building a schedule: "When we put together our schedule, we always look at our players first. We recruit players at Illinois that want to play anyone, anywhere, any time; they want to play an ultra-competitive schedule. We love competitors, and that's really how we build our program. We want players that are set from day one to play that big game."
On hosting a home tournament: "We have such a great fan base, between the awesome family support system our players have, the students at Illinois, our alumni and everyone in the community; so to play in front of that `Sea of Orange' in a tournament setting is something that we're really excited about. Also, it is very important to defend your home turf in the Big Ten, so this tournament gives us the opportunity to gear up for that."
On the indoor tournament at the UNI Dome: "Whenever we want to, we have access to a great indoor facility here at Illinois, the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility, and we thought it would be a great opportunity for our local players. It's close and it's going to be filled with great competition."
On scheduling tournaments all around the country: "My staff and I have worked very hard to create a national recruiting base, so we think it's only fitting that we play a nationally competitive schedule. In addition to the tremendous academics and facilities at Illinois and throughout the Big Ten, we are fortunate to have financial resources which allow us to schedule aggressively. It's also really important to us to play in geographic regions where our players are from ... We like to go back and play where their families are, so that they can get a chance to see the Illini in action."
On the Big Ten: "I think the Big Ten Conference is going to be very exciting this year, with a strong presence in the postseason. There's a lot of parity in the conference, and we are really excited to get after it. This year we've added a conference tournament for the first time in several years, so I think that's something to look forward to at the end of our season."
On the 2013 Fighting Illini: "We are really excited about our team in 2013. We have nine newcomers, which adds depth to our team. I think we have a great mix of veteran players returning and some exciting new talent. We feel we have a strong combination, offensively, of power and speed; we look forward to stealing a few more bases than last season and also hitting the long ball.
"But, again, the name of the game is pitching. We believe senior pitcher Pepper Gay is one of the most talented pitchers in the country. Under her leadership, we wanted to challenge our team from start to finish this season, with our goal being to improve individually and collectively at every practice and in every game, playing our best ball at the end of the season."