Softball needs to pick up early, impressive wins in tough non-conference schedule

Jacob Martella

Texas is no stranger to tough opponents. 

Last season, the Longhorns made the six-hour trip to Lafeyette, Louisiana, for the regional round of the NCAA tournament to face the Ragin’ Cajuns, who had a decisive home-field advantage. And with that advantage, Louisiana-Lafeyette ended Texas’ postseason run early. 

In order to score the home-field advantage for the first round of the postseason, the No. 25 Longhorns are going to have to pull out some big wins against quality opponents in their non-conference schedule.

For the second straight year, Texas will open up the season on the road, heading west to play in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona, next weekend. There, the Longhorns will square off against No. 2 Oregon and No. 16 Arizona State as well as Northwestern and Stanford, who each received votes in a preseason coach’s poll.

Later in February, Texas will face No. 12 Georgia, No. 7 UCLA, No. 17 Missouri and No. 22 Notre Dame at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in California.

The key for the Longhorns in these tough preseason tournaments will be putting up good performances against Women’s College World Series contenders. They will need to come away with a few impressive wins to show the committee they deserve to be one of the top-16 seeded teams to open at their home field.

The difficult schedule away from Austin also gives Texas a chance to boost its RPI, a calculation that many NCAA postseason selection committees use to determine seedings. Following Texas’ loss to Louisiana-Lafayette last year, head coach Connie Clark said the defeat proved the importance of RPI, especially to the younger players on the team.

“It motivates you to really understand the RPI and really understand what it’s about to work your tail off to be in the top 16,” Clark said.

Of course, winning these non-conference games is easier said than done. Oregon is coming off a near miss at the title a year ago, after falling one game short of the final. Georgia and UCLA each have something to prove this year after being upset on home turf in the Super Regionals last year.

But even picking up two or three wins against ranked opponents could make a difference in determining the host teams for the NCAA tournament.  And it will be important to pick up those wins in the non-conference schedule because once conference play begins, it will be hard to pick up those quality wins in the Big 12.