DePaul Softball: Previewing the Schedule

After being knocked out of the Regional portion of last year's NCAA Tournament, the No. 21 DePaul Blue Demons will face another rigorous schedule to prepare themselves for a tough Big East season.

Texas Invitational

The team starts out in the Texas Invitational today, where they will face off with Texas, LSU and North Carolina. Assistant Coach Cat Osterman will be making her return to the school she set numerous records and starred at for four years.

LSU is coming off of a season that saw them end the year at 34-17-1. Their season, like DePaul's, also ended in the Regional portion of the NCAA Tournament, with their loss coming to Arizona State, who also went on to the College World Series. The Tigers enter the season as the No. 18 team in the country and are picked to finish second in the rugged SEC West, a division that includes perennial power Alabama. The team will be led by Kirsten Shortridge, who was named a Preseason All-SEC team member. Shortridge, a pitcher/outfielder, garnered third team All-America honors last year. They return eight starters and four pitchers from last year.

No. 19 North Carolina comes into the tournament hungry to continue their success under longtime coach Donna J. Papa. The Tar Heels also had their season cut short lost year, as they lost to yet another World Series team, Georgia. After going 47-13, including 15-5, the team will be looking to 11 returning lettermen for leadership. The team returns six position players who started a minimum of 25 games and are led by Christine Knauer and Danielle Spaulding. Spaulding doubles as a pitcher and comes back after posting a 20-2 record and 1.44 ERA.

The host team, Texas, comes into the season unranked and looking to build upon last year's 40-win team, a feat last accomplished in 2006. The team will have to do it without last year's main pitcher, Brittany Barnhill, who transferred after last year. The Longhorns will be boosted from the return of four All-Central Region team members. They will look to build on last year's season after losing to NCAA semifinalist Alabama.

Kickin Chicken Classic

The team next heads to the Kickin Chicken Classic hosted by Coastal Carolina. There the Demons will be facing off against the host Chanticleers, Canisius, Jacksonville and Eastern Kentucky. The tournament will be somewhat easier than their first one, as the only team that made the NCAA Tournament last year was Canisius and they lost both of their games in the Ohio State Regional. The Griffs return six starters from last year's 26-25 team, in a season that saw them claim their third consecutive Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference title.

Easton Classic

The Demons travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala. for their third tournament of the year. There they will be one of three teams, including Alabama and South Carolina, to take place in the three day tournament.

The No. 2 Crimson Tide return some of the best players in the country for another year in which they expect to contend for a National Title. Despite losing speedster Brittany Rogers, the team returns star pitcher Kelsi Dunn and Charlotte Morgan, who was recently selected as the top pick in the Pro Softball Draft. Alabama also returns three more starters from last year's 54-11 team. Last year, the Tide made it all the way to the semifinal round of the College World Series, only to be knocked out by eventual runner-up Florida.

South Carolina will be looking to bounce back from a rough 21-24 season. They welcome back six starters and four pitchers from last year's squad. Sophomores Audrey Broyles (10 wins) and Kierstyn White (nine wins), who combined to throw 230 of the team's 312 innings last year, look to anchor the pitching staff. Junior Lauren Mendes returns to lead the offense, one which saw her hit .266 with eight doubles and two triples.

Aloha Tournament

After heading to Hawaii to participate in this tournament, the Demons may never want to come back. Here again, the team will play three opponents they should do well against. None of the other three teams (Hawaii, Loyola Marymount, and Troy) made the NCAA Tournament last year.

Judi German Classic

The Demons will have their hands full in this annual prestigious tournament, as they face three College World Series opponents in their first three games. To start out the tournament, the team faces Arizona State, Washington and Michigan. Washington won the National Title last year. The other two teams in the tournament are no cupcakes either, as both Fresno State and UNLV made the NCAA Tournament last year. To put things into perspective, the team starts out with the No. 5 Sun Devils, top-ranked Huskies, No. 4 Wolverines and No. 25 Bulldogs in order. The amount of talent in this tournament is ridiculous and should be one of the best, if not the best, of the year.

Staying in California, the team faces off with Cal-State Fullerton, who is also receiving votes after being knocked out of last year's NCAA Regionals. Coming off of a 30-21 season, the team returns seven starters, including all three pitchers who combined for a 2.29 ERA. Outfielder Torrie Anderson returns to anchor the offense, after hitting 11 homeruns and knocking in 35 RBI.

The Demons then continue their road trip as they jump right into Big East play against Louisville. This season, the Big East has changed its scheduling so that weekend series will now be three games instead of the previous two. Along with DePaul and Notre Dame, Louisville was the third team to make the NCAA Tournament. The Demons will also face off against in-state rivals Northern Illinois, Illinois, Illinois State, Northwestern, UIC and Loyola.

In part three of our softball preview series, Mike Wojtychiw will take a look at DePaul's position players.

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