Can you believe it? The Division I softball season is almost here and there’s a whole plethora of opening weekend fun across the nation… and the continent!
The 2019 season begins on Thursday, February 7th and really hits the ground running the weekend of February 8-10 and there are definitely some intriguing matchups for a variety of reasons.
From the annual Kajikawa Classic in Arizona to the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge in Mexico and with other team-hosted tournaments in the mix, here’s a look at some of the most intriguing first weekend games that might be worth keeping an eye on as the regular season gets under way.
10. Liberty vs. Notre Dame (Puerto Vallarta College Challenge)
After moving from the Big South to the ASun this summer, Liberty will face all-new conference opponents in that portion of the season. Fresh off a hard-fought regional battle against South Carolina, the Flames will be tested in Mexico to kick off the year, facing the ACC’s Notre Dame. Often seen as the ACC’s #2 program, the Fighting Irish are always looking for quality wins, doubly so now with a lot of eyes nationwide turned on the conference after Florida State’s national championship run last season.
9. Minnesota vs. Ole Miss (Friends of Jaclyn Tournament, Orlando)
A mid-tournament matchup for both teams at the Friends of Jaclyn Tournament in Orlando, both the Gophers and Rebels are looking to establish a new identity early and swiftly in 2019. The Gophers famously lost two-time all-American catcher Kendyl Lindaman to transfer, while pitching ace Kaitlin Lee and star outfielder Elantra Cox both graduated from Ole Miss following the 2018 season. Interestingly, the game will also pit first-year Gophers hitting coach Katie Rietkovich against her former team, as she spent a number of years as the Volunteer Assistant Coach at Ole Miss before heading to Minneapolis this summer.
8. Kentucky vs. Oklahoma State (Houston Invitational)
The Wildcats’ trip to Houston includes a matchup against Kenny Gajewski’s Cowgirls, giving both teams an early test and, for one, what will likely be a quality win that may come into play around NCAA tournament seeding time. The Cowgirls have some new faces that UK will recognize, having brought in a trio of ex-SEC players via transfer this fall. Kentucky was ranked in the middle of the SEC in the preseason coaches poll and will seek to prove doubters wrong, while also showing themselves as a legitimate postseason contender. Each team’s matchup against Houston, one of the nation’s best non-Power 5 teams, is also worth keeping an eye on.
7. Boston College vs. Texas (Houston Invitational)
UNC-Wilmington vs. Florida State (Joanne Graf Classic)
Kansas vs. Oregon (Kajikawa Classic)
We threw these games all into one bullet point because they are all on the list for the same reason: They will provide us with the first look of the year at three teams that many softball fans are eager to see. Defending champion Florida State takes on UNC-Wilmington to kick off the Joanne Graf Classic in Tallahassee, while Texas and new head coach Mike White play host to Boston College to begin the home team’s portion of the Texas Classic. Most intriguing, perhaps, will be Melyssa Lombardi’s first game as head coach at Oregon, when the Ducks take on Kansas and their own first-year head coach in Jennifer McFalls. Lots of eyes will be trained on Tempe, Arizona when the Ducks take the field, both in this opening game and throughout the tournament.
6. Baylor vs. South Carolina (Puerto Vallarta College Challenge)
Whoever assembled South Carolina’s schedule for the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge is a magician – not only do the Gamecocks avoid facing a likely World Series-bound Washington team, they also avoid a rematch of the 2018 regional final vs. Liberty. The matchup against the Bears is likely the Gamecocks’ toughest matchup across the border. Several questions could begin to be answered against a quality Baylor team, including how the team’s star freshmen will show out in year #2.
5. Oregon vs. Missouri (Kajikawa Classic)
While the “first look” fans may turn away after the Ducks’ initial offering of 2019, the program’s matchup against Missouri is an intriguing one. Both lost nearly-innumerable stars to transfer after the 2018 season and are in a period of rebuilding. Larissa Anderson received little herald upon her hire at Mizzou, but, with a few years under her belt, could have the Tigers built back into a contender. For the time being, though, this will be a matchup between two quality teams in a bit of a significant valley that they are working their way out of. Both teams may find a win in this game quite helpful when the time comes for NCAA tournament seeding.