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This Week in Fastpitch

NFCA Leadoff Classic 
Five of the top seven teams in the latest USA Today/NFCA Top 25 poll highlight the field at the 2004 Leadoff Classic. The ninth annual event will once again be played at the beautiful South Commons Complex in Columbus, Ga. Heavy rains hit southwestern Georgia earlier in the week, but forecasts call for a beautiful weekend of softball. 

Defending the Title 
Massachusetts won last year’s rain-shortened event, and the Minutewomen are back to defend their Leadoff Classic title. UMass joins Washington and Oklahoma as the only teams to play in all nine Leadoff Classics. Washington won the title in 1996 and 2000. South Carolina (1997), Michigan (1998) and Nebraska (2002) are other past champions among this year’s field of 24. 

A Homecoming of Sorts 
Columbus was home to the first Olympic softball tournament in 1996. The USA Olympic Team returns to the home of its first gold medal to play five exhibition games against collegiate competition. Team USA faces Michigan, Virginia Tech, Army, Arizona State and Georgia this weekend. 

Follow it Live 
For the first time in softball history, a multi-field tournament will provide live stats for every game in the tournament. Links will be provided on www.nfca.org to live feeds from each game, up to seven games at once. 

What a start! 
Monica Abbott got her collegiate career off to a great start, throwing three no-hitters already this season. Abbott is off to a 13-0 start for Tennessee, and set a new personal record with 16 strikeouts against East Tennessee State. 

Finch gets edged out 
After claiming ESPN.com’s 2003 “Hottest Female Athlete” award, Jennie Finch finished a close second to soccer star Heather Mitts in the 2004 online balloting. Over 1.2 million votes were cast in what has become an annual event. Finch and her Team USA teammates will be in action at the NFCA Leadoff Classic this weekend. 

Sweeping Honors 
Mississippi State’s Iyhia McMichael, the first pick in the NPF Senior Draft, swept both the Louisville Slugger/NFCA and the USA Softball National Player of the Week awards. McMichael was 14-of-19 last week, and slugged for a remarkable 1.737 clip. McMichael hit three home runs, four triples, delivered 13 RBIs and was a perfect 5-for-5 on the basepaths. 

Other tournaments this weekend 
Arizona hosts the Worth Wildcat Invitational … UCLA hosts the Stacy Winsberg Tournament … Louisville hosts a Round Robin Tournament … Tulsa and Houston are also host tournaments. 

USA Softball and ESPN Announce Partnership 
Starting on July 4, ESPN and its family of networks will show Team USA in competition for five consecutive Sundays leading up to the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. The games will be part of Team USA’s “Aiming for Athens” Tour. For more information, visit www.usasoftball.com.