NASHVILLE, Tenn. -Lipscomb softball coach Kristin Ryman has never been one to be afraid of challenging her team with a strong pre-conference schedule.
Fielding one of her youngest teams ever for the 2013 spring season Ryman is positive her players will be up to the competition even though as many as six starters could be freshmen or sophomores. Highlights are three Southeastern Conference teams, one from the Big 10, four from Conference USA, two from the Sun Belt and three from the Ohio Valley.
“We have a good, young team,” Ryman said. “They are excited and anxious. But they are not nervous at all.
“They go out and take care of business in practice. They get it done. This is probably the hardest working team we have had in a long time.”
The season begins Feb. 8-10 when the Lady Bisons travel to Houston for the Houston Invitational. They will face Iowa; play Texas State twice, Houston and Louisiana-Lafayette. Houston is home to Lipscomb infielders Bridgette Begle and Gracey Aguirre. Outfielder Shelby Cunningham is from Wills Point, Texas.
“One of the things we try to do is schedule some of our non-conference games in areas where some of our players are from, especially if they are locations far away from Nashville,” Ryman said. “It gives them a chance to play in front of their families and friends back home.
“We recruit a lot around Houston. It is warmer there at the start of the season. Everything makes sense for us to go down there. Houston is a very, very good established program. We are going to be challenged in that tournament as much or more than we will be all year.”
The next week, Feb. 15-17, the Lady Bisons will be in Starkville, Miss., for Mississippi State’s Bulldog Battle. The Lady Bisons will play Mississippi State, Western Kentucky, Murray State and Northwestern State.
The Lady Bisons are a little closer to home Feb. 22-24 when they play in Chattanooga’s Frost Classic. In addition to the host team the Lady Bisons are scheduled to play Missouri State, Ohio, Niagara and Miami-Ohio.
“We have tough schedules in all three of those tournaments,” Ryman said. “It is definitely a tough non-conference start to the season.
“If we were throwing kids out there before they were ready it would be different. There are going to be mistakes along the way. But this team is talented. We are confident.”
The first game at Draper Diamond will be Feb. 27 when Wright State visits for a 2 p.m. game.
The Lady Bisons remain at home March 1-3 for the Purple & Gold Challenge. The Lady Bisons will face IPFW, UTEP, Western Carolina and Tennessee Tech.
The Lady Bisons will be on the road Feb. 26 in Knoxville to play Tennessee. Other non-conference road games include a doubleheader with Austin Peay in Clarksville March 13, a doubleheader in Birmingham against UAB April 2 and a doubleheader with Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro April 24.
On the schedule of non-conference home games are visits from Kentucky on March 27, a doubleheader with Belmont April 10 and a doubleheader with Western Kentucky April 17.
The Atlantic Sun Conference will have a different format this season. Teams will play three-game series with a doubleheader on Saturdays and a single game on Sundays.
“I think it is going to be interesting,” Ryman said. “Before, there were a lot of splits between teams that were pretty evenly matched. You would walk away at the end of the day after a doubleheader and still not have a gut feeling about who was the better team on that date.
“Now there will be a true winner in every series. There are going to be some big time battles.”
Kennesaw State will be the conference home opener for the Lady Bisons March 16-17.
The remainder of the conference home schedule features North Florida, March 23-24; USC-Upstate, April 13-14; and Stetson, April 27-28.
The Lady Bisons open conference play on the road at Jacksonville March 9-10. They return to Florida March 29-30 to play Florida Gulf Coast.
Rounding out the road conference games are visits to ETSU, April 6-7; Mercer April 20-21 and a stop at Northern Kentucky, May 3-4 to close out the regular season.
“The conference is going to be very tough and competitive again,” Ryman said. “We add Northern Kentucky which has had a ton of success at the Division II level. I think they are going to be competitive right away.
“The teams that were up at the top of the league last year should be up there again. Nobody lost a tremendous amount. Teams that lost pitching return a lot of hitters. And teams that lost hitters are returning their pitching. Every team in the conference across the board is recruiting well.”
Lipscomb will be hosting the Atlantic Sun Softball Tournament at Draper Diamond May 8-11.
“We are very excited about hosting the tournament,” Ryman said. “The facility is really coming together. We have had some huge donations. There is a lot of support and that means a tremendous amount to all of us.
“Hopefully, we will have the home field advantage. We have to do the work between now and then to get there and put ourselves in a position to be successful.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.