By Sean Barows
Coming off the seventh Women’s College World Series appearance in program history last season, the University of Tennessee softball team officially released its 2016 schedule today, a 55-game slate that figures to be one of the toughest in the nation.
“This is the most ambitious schedule we have ever undertaken,” co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “Seventeen future opponents appeared in the NCAA Regionals last year. This year’s opponents also include teams who have a combined 96 appearances in the Women’s College World Series and 18 national championships.
“We have always believed you have to play the best to prepare yourself for May and hopefully June.”
The Volunteers’ 2016 slate will consist of 25 home games, 16 road games and 14 neutral site contests. The schedule features a handful of marquee non-conference games, including showdowns with perennial national powers Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Fresno State and Oklahoma. The Vols will play the two-time national champion Sooners at home on Saturday, April 23 in one of the final non-conference games of the year.
UT opens its season on Feb. 11 against Creighton in Tempe, Arizona at the Kajikawa Classic hosted by Arizona State. The Vols will also take on BYU, Fresno State, San Jose State, Northwestern and the host Sun Devils to round out a six-game opening week. Their first home game is slated for Thursday, Feb. 25 at 3 p.m., against Dayton.
The Big Orange will also take part in tournaments hosted by USF in Clearwater, Fla., and Alabama in Tuscaloosa during non-conference play as well as host the Tennessee Invitational on March 4-6 in Knoxville. UT will square off with the Crimson Tide to wrap up the Easton Bama Bash on Sunday, Feb. 28 in the only meeting between the two SEC powers during the regular season.
In all, the Vols will play 29 of their 55 games against teams that advanced to last year’s NCAA Regionals, including seven against opponents that reached the Women’s College World Series (Alabama, Florida, Auburn). They will also play 15 teams that finished in the top 50 of last year’s final RPI.
UT begins the SEC portion of its schedule on March 11 when Arkansas visits Sherri Parker Lee Stadium for a three-game series. The Vols also host series against Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Auburn in conference play this season.
Road trips in SEC play include visits to Florida, Missouri, Georgia and Ole Miss. The Volunteers take on the two-time defending national champion Gators on March 18-20 and conclude conference play May 6-8 against the Rebels.
The SEC Tournament will be hosted by Mississippi State in Starkville from May 11-14. The top 12 teams in the regular season will advance to the conference tournament with the top four seeds receiving a first-round bye.
The NCAA Regionals will be held at campus sites from May 19-22 with the winners advancing to the Super Regionals on May 25-29, which will also be held at campus sites. The Women’s College World Series is set to being on June 2 in Oklahoma City, Okla. The Vols will be looking to make their eighth trip to the WCWS in the last 12 years.
All dates and times are tentative and subject to change. Season ticket information and the full schedule of game times will be released at a later date.