NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Lipscomb softball coach Kristin Ryman always has a goal of challenging her players when she formulates a schedule.
The 2016 schedule follows that tradition, but Ryman hopes that the lineup will offer a variety of tests for her team.
“It will be a tough schedule,” Ryman said. “We scaled back a little bit from last year. As we got into last year there were moments when I thought playing that type of schedule was really good, but there were moments when I thought we weren’t winning enough of the close games.
“We never really had a break. That can start hurting your confidence. We have found a little bit better balance this year of challenging opponents, including some really good mid-majors who will challenge us, along with some games we think we could and should win.”
Ryman adds that scheduling is always a tricky venture. Coaches don’t won’t to schedule so tough that teams struggle until they begin conference play. On the other side coaches don’t want to rack up a lot of wins and not be prepared for conference play.
“We have teams in there like South Alabama, Kentucky, Louisville, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Iowa,” Ryman said. “But we also have a good mix of some really good mid-majors like Troy, UAB, Chattanooga, Western Kentucky and Tennessee Tech, a regional team last year.”
Seeking a balance in terms of competition is also important for Ryman as she fields a team for 2016 featuring seven freshman, three sophomores, four juniors and five seniors. She wants her younger players to be able to raise their level of play against strong teams, but she also wants them to experience success.
The Lady Bisons start the season at the Sand Dollar Classic in Gulf Shores, Alabama Feb. 12-14. The opening game is with Samford followed by host South Alabama, both on Feb. 12. The Lady Bisons will face Florida A&M and Louisiana Tech the next day and close out on Valentine’s Day with Southern Mississippi.
One of the most intriguing tournaments for the Lady Bisons in many years is the Total Control Sports Invitational Feb. 19-21 in Rosemont, Illinois, outside of Chicago. The tournament will be played in a domed stadium, a first for the Lady Bisons. It will also mark the first time the team has played on artificial turf.
“It will definitely be a unique challenge,” Ryman said. “We will have the challenge of our opponents but we will also have the challenge of playing on a unique playing surface.
“We will try to get as familiar with the turf as we can before we go. We have a couple of ideas we can do to kind of prep for that.”
The Lady Bisons will face Quinnipac and tournament co-host Illinois-Chicago on the first day. On Feb. 20 they play IUPUI and Iowa. They close the tournament with Eastern Kentucky on the 21st.
“It will be a fun trip,” Ryman said. “We have several players from the Midwest area. We don’t usually get the chance to play up north. It will be neat for us to not only travel north but to play in a climate-controlled environment and also visit a city like Chicago.”
From Feb. 26-28 the Lady Bisons will be closer to home when they participate in the Frost Classic hosted by Chattanooga. The opening day will have a Bluegrass flavor as the Lady Bisons face Kentucky followed by Northern Kentucky. On the 27th Evansville and Eastern Illinois are the opponents. On the 28th the Lady Bisons end the classic with Miami (Ohio).
The Lady Bisons are home for the first time March 2 when Louisville visits Draper Diamond at Smith Stadium for a doubleheader. This will be the first time the Cardinals have visited Lipscomb.
Two days later the Lady Bisons will host their annual Purple/Gold Challenge facing Furman March 4, Troy and Youngstown State March 5 and Indiana State March 6.
“Troy surprised some people last year with some of their wins,” Ryman said. “They beat Florida State and they gave Alabama a run for their money. They have a very talented team that is on the move up.
“Furman has a lot of young, talented pitchers. Indiana State ran through its tournament and made it to the regionals. Youngstown State is a team we have not played. It won’t be easy. Overall it should be a good weekend.”
Then it is back on the road with a game March 9 at Chattanooga and a three-game series at Houston with a doubleheader on March 12 and a single game on March 13.
The Lady Bisons make a short trip north to Bowling Green March 16 for a doubleheader at Western Kentucky.
The Atlantic Sun portion of the season opens March 19 at Lipscomb when USC Upstate visits, a rematch of last year’s A-Sun Championship game. The two teams open with a doubleheader followed by a single game on March 20.
“Upstate is coming off several great years in a row,” Ryman said. “Almost every position player they had last year was a senior. They return a key piece in Lexi Shubert, one of the top pitchers in the conference.
“They graduated a lot of players. They will have a different look. But they will have a familiar face in the circle. We will have our work cut out for us right off the bat.”
The softball version of the “Battle of the Boulevard” takes place at Draper Diamond at Smith Stadium March 23.
On March 25 the Lady Bisons continue their home stand as they return to A-Sun play with a doubleheader against Jacksonville followed by a single game on the 26th.
The University of Tennessee makes its first appearance on the Lipscomb campus March 29 for a single game.
“We have been talking with them for several years about doing this and we are really excited we were able to find a day that worked for everybody,” Ryman said. “Tennessee has reloaded with a lot of freshmen this year, but they are very, very talented. They had one of the top recruiting classes in the country.
“I think we have a great facility, one teams really enjoy playing on. We enjoy hosting top 25 competition and I think those teams enjoy playing here.”
The Lady Bisons head to Cookeville to face Tennessee Tech March 30 for a mid-week test.
Florida Gulf Coast comes to Nashville April 2nd and 3rd for a three-game conference series.
The Lady Bisons stay home for a doubleheader with non-conference rival UAB April 6.
It’s back to the A-Sun April 9th and 10th when the Lady Bisons head to Jacksonville to face North Florida in a three-game series.
April 16th and 17th Lipscomb is once again on the road in the A-Sun with three games at Stetson in DeLand, Florida.
The Lady Bisons return home for a single game with Murray State April 20.
In a rare move the Lady Bisons will play a late season tournament when they head to Knoxville to the Tennessee Invitational April 23-24. The Lady Bisons will face Louisiana-Monroe and Oklahoma on the first day. They close out with Tennessee, the second meeting between the two teams for the regular season.
The final home game for the Lady Bisons is April 26 when Tennessee State visits.
Lipscomb puts the finishing touches on the regular season with a three-game conference series at Kennesaw State in Georgia. The exact schedule and times for the series are not firm due to a variety of considerations.
“There is not going to be a weak point in the conference this year,” Ryman said. “It is going to be an interesting year. We all graduated some key pieces. You will not be going into any weekend thinking you are going to have a break.
“I think it is legitimately going to come down to the last weekend as to who is going to get into the tournament. The one team that doesn’t get in could be any of the seven. It comes down to who can play in the moment and who can stay away from injuries.”
The A-Sun Tournament returns to FGCU and Fort Myers, Florida May 11-14.
“The most unique thing about our conference schedule is we are at home for three weekends in a row and then we are on the road for three weekends,” Ryman said. “It presents an interesting end of the season for us where we are on the road. With NJIT not having a softball team we will have one less team than the other sports.
“We are picking up the Tennessee Invitational. It is a three-game round-robin so it will have the feel of an A-Sun weekend series.”