Twenty-four of the nation's top collegiate softball teams will compete in the ninth annual NFCA Leadoff Classic, Feb. 27-29 at the South Commons Stadium and Complex in Columbus, Ga.
In addition, the 2004 United States Olympic team will play five exhibition games as part of its "Aiming for Athens" tour.
"The Leadoff Classic will be extra special this year," said Lacy Lee Baker, executive director of the NFCA. "The Olympic team will be returning to the site of its first gold medal and we have another great lineup of outstanding college teams that will be a precursor to the Women's College World Series."
Four teams who ended their season at the 2003 NCAA Women's College World Series (WCWS) highlight the Leadoff field — third-ranked California, which finished second at the Women’s College World Series; No. 4 Oklahoma; No. 5 Washington, and 10th-ranked Texas.
No. 7 Georgia, No. 8 Nebraska and Michigan, which began the season tied for the No. 10 spot, also enter the tournament ranked in the USA Today/NFCA preseason top 10, which was released January 28. The regular season poll begins February 18.
The format focuses on invitations to representatives from each of the NCAA’s eight Division I regions, and then pairs the teams in cross-regional match-ups in pool play. The teams are then placed in brackets depending on their record in pool play, run differential, and other factors.
Defending Leadoff Classic champion Massachusetts returns to defend its title, along with No. 12 DePaul, No. 13 Cal State Fullerton, No. 14 LSU, No. 19 Florida State, No. 20 Arizona State, No. 22 South Carolina and 23rd ranked Fresno State.
Army, Central Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Georgia Tech, Northwestern (La.) State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Princeton and Virginia Tech complete the field of 24.
Historically, the Leadoff Classic champion has used the tournament title as a springboard to an outstanding season. Six of the first eight Leadoff Classic champions – Nebraska (2002), Stanford (2001), Washington (2000 and 1996), Michigan (1998) and South Carolina (1997) – went on to compete in the WCWS final eight the same year.
Games begin Friday at noon, with opening ceremonies preceding the Nebraska-Michigan game at 11:45 in the stadium. The tournament continues Saturday at 10 a.m.; with bracket play beginning Saturday at 4 p.m. Bracket play will begin on Sunday at 9 a.m., with the championship games set for 1 p.m.
The Olympic team will be in action all three days of the tournament, opening with Michigan Friday at 6 p.m. and Virginia Tech at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Team USA will face Army and Arizona State at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., respectively. The two-time gold medalists will square off against Georgia Sunday at 5 p.m.
Daily tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children under 12. Tournament passes are available for a $20 adult price and $12 for children. Discounted tickets will be available for youth and military groups of 10 or more. For more information, contact the NFCA at (662) 320-2155 or visit www.nfca.org.