NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With opening day on the diamond just five weeks away, Lipscomb softball head coach Kristin Ryman unveiled the 2018 schedule for her Lady Bisons Wednesday morning.
Lipscomb will play a total of 53 games, including 21 at Draper Diamond at Smith Stadium. The slate features a program-record 11 games against Power 5 opponents and seven against 2017 NCAA Tournament teams.
“Our goal every year is to have a good, competitive schedule, but also have some balance,” Ryman said. “This year we have a lot of big names from Power 5 schools, but they aren’t traditionally the ones at the top of their conference. We have some games that will challenge us, but on the other side, we have some games that will help us build confidence and will allow us to work through some different lineups if need be.
“All in all, we have some good balance and there is a really good opportunity to win a lot of the early games in nonconference play.”
The early portion of the Lady Bisons schedule is highlighted by five tournaments spanning from Florida to Alabama to Texas.
“When putting together the schedule, we try and look to go places we’ve never been before,” Ryman said. “We also look to play in warmer weather if we can. Softball is a sport that is structured with tournaments early in the season so it will help us determine pretty quickly where we stand.”
Lipscomb opens the 2018 season in Gulf Shores, Alabama as part of the Sand Dollar Classic Feb. 9-11. The Lady Bisons will face off against Penn State on Friday’s opening day before taking on Ole Miss and Lamar on Saturday. They will close out the tournament Sunday against Georgia Tech and Florida A&M.
“We felt this was a good opportunity to start off the season with some really quality opponents and test our team right off the bat,” Ryman said. “It should give us a good feel of where we are early on. We also have some girls from Alabama and Florida, so that will be a good little trip for them.”
Last year Ole Miss put together its best season in program history en route to capturing the school’s first SEC Tournament title and advancing to its first-ever NCAA Super Regional. Ryman believes the matchup with the Rebels could be Lipscomb’s toughest of the season.
“Ole Miss is probably the best team on our schedule,” Ryman said. “They had a special season in 2017 and they are bringing back a lot of talent. They have a good chance at being ranked to open the year.”
The Lady Bisons will then take their first-ever trip to Madeira Beach, Florida to compete in the Madeira Beach Spring Invite hosted by Eastern Michigan Feb. 16-18.
Lipscomb opens the event with Virginia and George Mason on Friday, before matching up with Ohio and 2017 NCAA Tournament participant Jacksonville State on Saturday. It will finish the weekend off on Sunday against UNC Greensboro.
The Lady Bisons will stay on the road for a third consecutive weekend to begin the season when they travel to Birmingham, Alabama to take part in the Samford Invitational on Feb. 23-25. The three-team round robin will give Lipscomb two games against both Samford and Indiana.
For the first time in 2018 Lipscomb will play in front of its home crowd March 2-4 with the annual Purple/Gold Challenge. The tournament field not only includes familiar foes in ETSU and Indiana State, but the Lady Bisons will also welcome Georgia Southern to Draper Diamond for the first time ever.
After making a midweek trip to Tennessee Tech on March 7, Lipscomb will close out its tournament slate with a trip to Houston, Texas to take part in the Cougar Classic. The Lady Bisons will play five games against Houston, Iowa State, Penn State and Northwestern.
In 2016 the Lady Bisons traveled to the Lone Star State for a three-game series against Houston and it was because of that trip that Ryman is eager to return.
“Houston is another tournament we are excited about,” Ryman said. “It’s a place that has always been very hospitable and treated us well, and on the field we’ve always gotten competitive games.
“And I don’t know what it is, but we’ve always played well in the state of Texas.”
After returning from Texas, Lipscomb will play five of its next seven games at home before opening up ASUN Conference play. The Lady Bisons will get a midweek visit from Bradley (March 14), prior to hosting IUPUI and Bowling Green for two games apiece on March 17-18.
The remaining home nonconference slate features individual games against Louisville (March 28), UAB (April 3) and Belmont (April 24).
“We’ve had some really close battles with Louisville the last few years where we came out on top twice,” Ryman said. “It’s a challenging game for both sides, but for us to have the opportunity to host a team that is traditionally in the upper half of the ACC and to keep the series going, it’s big for our program.”
For the third straight season the Purple and Gold will start its ASUN action against USC Upstate (March 24-25). The Spartans are the reigning ASUN regular season and tournament champion.
“It seems we start out conference play with Upstate every year,” Ryman said. “In some ways it’s good to go ahead and play and use them as a measuring stick, because they have been the team to beat in the ASUN the last five or six years. It allows us to start conference play with a lot of focus and energy.
“If we pull a couple wins away from Upstate, it certainly sends a message to the rest of the conference and it would give us some confidence moving forward. We will have a good idea after that weekend of where we stack up in the league.”
Also visiting Draper Diamond for ASUN series are Jacksonville (April 7-8) and Florida Gulf Coast (April 28-29).
Lipscomb is scheduled to make ASUN road trips to Stetson (March 30-31), North Florida (April 14-15) and Kennesaw State (April 21-22).
In a rare event, the Lady Bisons will close out the regular season May 3 with a single midweek game at Western Kentucky before traveling back to DeLand, Florida May 9-12 for the ASUN Tournament.
“What’s good about where our team and our program is right now, is that we are going to legitimately compete with every team on our schedule this year,” Ryman said. “There is no one that is too far out of our reach where we just hope to keep it close. We feel really confident after how our team competed in the fall. I can’t wait to get 2018 started.”
BY THE NUMBERS
53 Total Games
21 Games at Draper Diamond
18 ASUN Games
16 True Road Games
16 Neutral Site Games
11 Games vs. Power 5 Opponents
8 Years since ASUN Tournament was last in DeLand, Florida
7 Games vs. 2017 NCAA Tournament Participants
5 Nonconference Tournaments