LOUISVILLE, Ky. —Twenty teams are poised to compete in the NFCA NCAA Division II Leadoff Classic on Feb. 8-10 at the Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater, Fla.
The tournament field features four teams that advanced to the 2018 NCAA Division II Championship in Salem, Va. — semifinalists Saint Leo and Southern Arkansas, plus North Georgia and West Chester. They did not meet in Salem, but Saint Leo and Southern Arkansas are scheduled to face each other in their Leadoff finale at 9 a.m. on Feb. 10.
Click HERE for our tournament central page, which includes the schedule, results and live stats for selected contests.
Entering 2019, seven squads – No. 2 Southern Arkansas, No. 3 North Georgia, No. 5 Saint Leo, No. 8 West Chester, No. 18 Palm Beach Atlantic, No. 20 Lenoir-Rhyne and No. 22 – participating this weekend are ranked in the NFCA Preseason Top 25 Coaches Poll.
Along with the Saint Leo and Southern Arkansas contest, there are a total of six top-25 matchups over the course of three days. On Friday, Valdosta State faces off against Palm Beach Atlantic and Southern Arkansas. The latter two meet as well, while longtime Southeast Region foes North Georgia and Lenoir-Rhyne do battle.
Saturday features, Valdosta State versus Lenoir-Rhyne and 2017 National Championship participant West Florida against 2018 NCAA South Region top seed Palm Beach Atlantic. The Argos also have contests against Saint Leo and West Chester. Additionally, 2018 NCAA Regional finalist Hillsdale and North Georgia face off.
On Sunday, 2017 Super Regional participants Lee and Harding meet up, while 2017 National Championship participant Molloy takes on Wayne State, who reached the Super Regionals in 2016 and 2017.
North Georgia, a perennial power who won the 2015 national championship and was the top seed among the eight teams that advanced to last year’s Division II Championship, is expected to be a strong contender again, with reigning Schutt Sports/NFCA Division II Player of the Year Kylee Smith returning for her junior season in the circle and the Nighthawks coming off a 62-4 campaign that included an 11th-straight trip to the NCAA tournament, fifth consecutive Peach Belt Conference regular season and tournament titles, and No. 5 ranking in the final NFCA Top 25 poll.
Saint Leo likewise had a historic 2018, after knocking off both No. 3 seed Chico State and top seed North Georgia en route to a share of third place nationally with Southern Arkansas. The Lions went 39-18 and advanced to the national finals for the first time, where they went 2-2 and pushed eventual national champion Southern Indiana to the limit in a 5-4 semifinal loss in eight innings that needed a second day to complete due to weather, which earned them a No. 4 final ranking.
Southern Arkansas won 60 games last year and ranked only behind Division II national champion Southern Indiana and runner-up Saint Anselm in the final NFCA Top 25 of the season. The Muleriders return 13 players from their winningest season in program history, which included a second Central Regional crown in the last three years and first outright Great American Conference regular season title.
West Chester went 45-15 and ranked eighth in the final NFCA Top 25 last season. The Golden Rams went 5-0 in the Atlantic Regional to advance to the Division II finals site for the second time in program history following a runner-up showing in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Tournament.
Among the other 16 teams in the tournament, 10 of the participating teams are coming off postseason appearances, and 15 of the 20 have made the postseason in the last two seasons. Six of squads have advanced to the Division II Championship during that timeframe, including Molloy and West Florida in 2017.
Azusa Pacific, California (Pa.), Eckerd, Florida Tech, Hillsdale, Indianapolis, Lee, Tampa, Wayne State (Mich.) and West Georgia round out the Leadoff lineup.
Teams will each play a pre-determined schedule over the three days. The tournament champion and runner-up will receive trophies, while an all-tournament team will recognize players from each of the 20 participating squads.