COLUMBIA, MO -- Twenty-four of the nation's top collegiate softball teams are set to participate in the seventh NFCA Leadoff Classic February 22-24 in Columbus, Georgia. Stanford, declared last year's Gold Bracket Champion after rain washed out the semifinal and final rounds of bracket play, will return to defend its championship after finishing in a tie for third in last year's Women's College World Series. Silver Bracket champion Fresno State and Bronze Bracket winner Arizona State, like Stanford awarded bracket championships by virtue of being the No. 1 seed, are also in this year's Classic field.

Other members of the 2002 Leadoff Classic field which made 2001 WCWS appearances last year are LSU (tied for third), Oklahoma (tied for fifth) and Michigan (tied for seventh). Of the 24 teams in this year's Leadoff Classic, 18 competed in NCAA postseason play in 2001 and 13 finished in the final USA Today/NFCA Top 25.

The tournament format consists of six, four-team pools. Following pool play, the top team from each pool, along with two at-large teams, will advance to the Gold Championship Bracket. The remaining four second-place teams along with four at-large teams will be placed in the Silver Championship Bracket and the remaining eight teams will be assigned to the Bronze Championship Bracket. All brackets will be single elimination/consolation. Each team will play a minimum of five games (three pool, two bracket) regardless of pool or bracket assignments.

Saturday's bracket play will be at 5 p..m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday's bracket play is scheduled for 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and Noon.

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