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Seventh Leadoff Classic Starts Friday

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.

Defending champion Stanford, one of four teams in this year's field which competed in last year's Women's College World Series, returns to defend its championship. The Cardinal were awarded the title by virtue of being the No. 1 seed in the Gold Bracket when rain washed out the semifinal and final rounds of last year's tournament. Silver Bracket champion Fresno State and Bronze Bracket winner Arizona State are also in this year's Leadoff Classic.

Other members of the 2002 Leadoff Classic field which made 2001 WCWS appearances are LSU, Michigan and Oklahoma. Of the 24 teams in the field, 18 competed in NCAA post-season play in 2001 and 13 finished in the final USA Today/NFCA Top 25. Stanford and LSU tied for third at the WCWS, while Oklahoma finished in a tie for fifth and Michigan tied for seventh place.

Fourteen teams in the Leadoff Classic are ranked in the first regular-season USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25, which was released Wednesday. Seven Leadoff Classic teams are ranked in the top 10 -- No. 2 Stanford, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 5 LSU, No. 6 Washington, No. 8 Arizona State, No. 9 Nebraska and No. 10 Michigan.

Washington, Leadoff Classic champions in 1996 and 2000, will attempt to become the first three-time champion. Stanford looks to become the first team to win back-to-back championships, while 1998 champion Michigan hopes to join Washington as the only two-time Leadoff Classic champion.

The tournament format consists of six, four-team pools. Following pool play, the top team from each pool, along with two at-large teams, willadvance 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 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.

For information about attending the NFCA Leadoff Classic, contact the Columbus Sports and Events Council at 706/660-1996 or the NFCA at 573/875-3033.

To check out the weather in Columbus, Georgia, click here.