Defending national champion Michigan is one of three Women’s College World Series competitors in the 24-team field for the 11th annual NFCA Leadoff Classic Feb. 24-26 at South Commons Stadium & Complex in Columbus, Ga.
In addition to the Wolverines, who advanced to the semifinals of last year’s Leadoff Classic, WCWS competitors and SEC foes Tennessee and Alabama will compete for the title along with 14 other squads that earned NCAA regional berths a year ago.
2005 SEC champion Georgia returns to the field again in 2006 after advancing to NCAA Super Regional action in the first year of the new format. Another super regional squad, Northwestern, will make the trip to Columbus to compete for the Leadoff Classic title that has proven in recent years to be a springboard to Oklahoma City.
Seven of the first 10 Leadoff Classic champions — LSU (2004), Nebraska (2002), Stanford (2001), Washington (2000 and 1996), Michigan (1998) and South Carolina (1997) — went on to compete at the Women’s College World Series the same year.
In two seasons (1999 and 2003) that the Leadoff Classic champion failed to qualify for the WCWS, the runner-up (DePaul and Alabama, respectively) ended its season in Oklahoma City.
Nebraska returns to Columbus hoping another Leadoff Classic title will help propel the Huskers back to the WCWS after earning a regional slot last season. Other teams comprising the field that earned a trip to NCAA regional action last season include Arizona State, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Seton Hall, Hofstra, Iowa, Louisiana-Lafayette, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina and Southern Illinois.
Florida Atlantic, Illinois State, Illinois and Michigan State round out the 24-team field.
Oklahoma was declared the champion at the 2005 Leadoff Classic after rain on Sunday forced the cancellation of the remainder of the tournament.
Utilizing the same format as years past, the Leadoff Classic features six, four-team pools. The six pool winners, along with two at-large teams, will compete in the gold championship bracket. The remaining second-place teams, along with four at-large teams, will comprise the silver championship bracket, while the remaining teams will play in the bronze championship bracket.