The spring 2009 schedule opens with three consecutive tournaments, four for the regular season.
“Any time we can play several teams in one weekend it is a good situation,” said Lady Bisons coach Kristin Peck. “It eventually will prepare us for our conference tournament where we could possibly play more than two games in a day. We are playing against some good quality, tougher competition.”
The Lady Bisons, who tied for the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season championship last season, open on the road in the Louisiana Classics at Lafayette, La., Feb. 13-15. They will play McNeese State, host Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech, Nicholls State and Providence.
Louisiana-Lafayette is a major challenge early in the season. They finished sixth in the nation in 2008 and played in the Women’s College World Series. They have won the Sun Belt Conference Championship seven of the last eight years.
“It will be fun to do some research on these teams,” said Peck. “Lafayette is a top 10 to top five team.”
The next weekend, Feb. 21-22, the Lady Bisons travel to Atlanta to play in the Panther Invitational hosted by Georgia State. They play Eastern Kentucky, Georgetown and Georgia State.
The third tournament is the Chattanooga Challenge in Chattanooga, Tenn., Feb. 27-March 1. The tournament offers a broad level of competition for the Lady Bisons with games with Radford, Rhode Island, UT-Martin, Sacred Heart and Toledo.
On March 4 the Lady Bisons take a brief break from tournament play when they travel to Clarksville to face Austin Peay in a doubleheader.
The Lady Bisons are back on the tournament trail March 6-7 when they play in the Low Country Invitational in Charleston, S.C. The tournament is hosted by Charleston Southern, the first team the Lady Bisons will face. They will also play UNC-Wilmington and North Carolina A&T.
“It is hard for us to get a lot of games packed into the first part of the season at home especially because it is a little bit colder here than some other places in the conference,” said Peck. “That’s why we like to do the tournaments. All the games are non-conference so we can have a chance to get all of the kinks worked out and be ready for conference games.”
The Lady Bisons will play 13 times at Draper Diamond this season. The home opener is March 10 against Tennessee Tech.
“This is a good year for us in terms of scheduling at home,” said Peck. We have a great facility here. So anytime we can host games it is a great situation for us.”
The home schedule is highlighted by a visit March 11 from Virginia Tech, winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference title the last two seasons and a participant in the Women’s College World Series last season. The stop will offer pitcher Kenzie Roark, a sophomore from Mt. Juliet, a chance to pitch in front of a Middle Tennessee crowd.
“It is great to have top 25 caliber teams play here,” said Peck. “It is great for the school. It is great for the conference. It is great for Nashville.
“Playing Virginia Tech here is a great opportunity for us. They lost their main pitcher from last year, but they have some great players around her that are coming back. It will be challenge, but we have to play challenging games. Our players know that.”
Middle Tennessee visits March 15 followed by Auburn for one game March 17 and Bradley March 18.
After a trip to Western Carolina March 24, the Lady Bisons are back at Draper Diamond for four more doubleheaders in a row.
They open Atlantic Sun Conference play March 27 against North Florida. Jacksonville visits March 28 and Campbell comes to town April 4. A non-conference doubleheader with UT-Chattanooga rounds out the homestand April 8.
“Our conference, top to bottom, is tough,” said Peck. “To give you an idea of how tough the conference is, Campbell, the No. 5 seed, won the tournament. We were the top seed, but you throw the seeds out the window.”
The Lady Bisons will play Atlantic Sun foes ETSU, USC-Upstate, Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast on the road.
“Florida Gulf Coast established itself early as the team to beat last year,” said Peck. “USC-Upstate was the other team we finished in the regular season tie with. They have a lot of players back who were freshmen last year.
“Stetson pitches well and they are always up there. Campbell returns a lot of freshmen that helped them get to the NCAA regionals last year. They will be tough again.”
Peck also expects Jacksonville, Mercer, ETSU, North Florida, Kennesaw State and Belmont should all be better.
“The conference has really stepped it up in the past couple of years,” said Peck. “Every conference game is going to be a challenge.
The remainder of the home schedule includes a visit from Tennessee State April 14.
Atlantic Sun doubleheaders with Mercer (April 17), Kennesaw State (April 18) and Belmont (May 2) will close out the home schedule.
“With our team being young we are going to be relying on quite a few freshmen to fill big roles for us,” said Peck. “If they can establish their confidence early on it will pay big dividends in conference play.
“We have taken strides to improve little-by-little every year. Being able to play teams like Louisiana-Lafayette, and to host teams like Auburn and Virginia Tech, will only make us better as we face that next level of competition.”
The Atlantic Sun Tournament is scheduled May 7-9 at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla.