LOUISVILLE, KY. — The top two finishers in last year's NCAA tournament and the top-seeded team heading to the championship site (final eight teams) headline the 2022 NFCA Division III Leadoff Classic on March 4-6 at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus, Ga.
Reigning national champ Virginia Wesleyan returns to the event for the first time since 2018 in Tucson, Ariz., when it won the Leadoff and went on to capture its second straight NCAA crown. The Marlins, who went 46-6-1 a year ago, have won three of the past four national championships. No NCAA tourney was held in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Meanwhile, 2021 national runner-up Texas Lutheran, the 2019 NCAA titlist, aims to give the Leadoff its second Texas-based champion in the last four tournaments, after UT-Tyler claimed the 2016 crown. The Bulldogs finished 36-6 last season.
The top-ranked team nationally in the NFCA Top 25 Coaches Poll and the No. 1 seed among the eight squads advancing to the NCAA Division III championship site in Salem, Va., was DePauw, who had won 26 of its last 28 games through NCAA Regionals. The Tigers finished tied for third in Salem and were 40-5 overall last season.
The rest of the 24-team field includes reigning tournament titlist Central, which captured the 2020 Leadoff just days before the season was halted due to the pandemic. The Dutch went 20-14 in 2021 and were one of the many teams left out of the NCAA tournament a year ago with the reduction from 62 teams to 47.
In all, the Leadoff contains 12 teams who participated in the NCAA tournament. Belhaven, Christopher Newport, Coe, East Texas Baptist, Eastern Connecticut State, Linfield, Piedmont, Salisbury, St. John Fisher join NCAA Regional champions DePauw, Texas Lutheran and Virginia Wesleyan in the mix.
Alma, Berry, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Emory, Illinois Wesleyan, Manhattanville, MIT, Pomona-Pitzer, Randolph-Macon, Transylvania and Trine are the other teams. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer will be returning to the field for the first time since 2020 due to the pandemic, while MIT has missed two full seasons, and hasn't played since going 30-12-1 in 2019.