By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It's a new day for the Tennessee Tech softball team with a challenging schedule standing ahead of the Golden Eagles as they enter the first season of the Michelle DePolo era.
Right from the start, Tech will be tested with several tournaments, pitting the team against a multitude of opponents, each testing different aspects of their game. The schedule features five 2019 NCAA tournament participants in Chattanooga, Lipscomb, Southeast Missouri, Tennessee and Tulsa.
"From game one we are going to have our foot on the gas," DePolo said. "The month of February has a high volume of games, tough competition and a lot of travel."
As the month winds on, the Golden Eagles will head from Macon, Ga., to Chattanooga to Spartanburg, S.C., then to Johnson City before the leap year takes place.
It all kicks off on February 7 as Tech takes the jaunt down to Macon to compete in the Mercer Invitational, facing Tulsa, Wright State, Dayton and host Mercer.
Tulsa finished 37-20 last season, including a 16-5 mark in the American Athletic Conference. The Golden Hurricanes reached the NCAA Stillwater Regional, claiming wins over Arkansas and Brigham Young but fell twice to regional host Oklahoma State.
Wright State finished 22-33 last season, 9-15 in the Horizon League. Dayton went 24-27, 11-7 in the Atlantic 10. The host Bears finished 27-29 a year ago, going 10-7 in the Southern Conference.
The Valentine's weekend will see the Golden Eagles take a quick trip down to Chattanooga for the Chattanooga Challenge from Feb. 14-16. In the tournament field, Tech will take on the host Mocs after facing Indiana State, Bowling Green, Western Kentucky and Marshall.
The Sycamores went 19-35 last season, including a 5-21 mark in the Missouri Valley. Bowling Green went 22-29, 7-14 in the Mid-American Conference. WKU is coming off of an impressive 37-13 year, finishing 18-6 in Conference USA and looking to bounce back from an early exit in their league tournament to Middle Tennessee. The Thundering Herd also had a great year with a 42-22 season, 17-7 in C-USA. Marshall competed in the National Invitational Softball Championship, claiming wins over Rutgers, George Washington and Kent State, before falling to Liberty in the regional championship.
Host Chattanooga went 37-17 last season, including a 11-7 mark in the SoCon, then knocking off No. 1 seed UNCG in the SoCon tournament to earn a berth in the NCAA Oxford Regional. The Mocs were eliminated in two games with defeats to regional host Ole Miss and Southeast Missouri.
Tech then makes a trip to Spartanburg, S.C., from Feb. 21 through 23 for the Wings Etc. Classic, facing Virginia, La Salle, Maine and host USC Upstate. The Cavaliers went 22-31 a year ago, including an 8-16 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference. La Salle finished 12-33 with a 5-17 mark in the A-10. Maine went 12-29, 4-13 in the America East.
Host USC Upstate went 41-15 in 2019, with an 18-6 record in the Big South Conference. The Spartans won their first game in the BSC tournament over Radford, but dropped consecutive games to Longwood and Winthrop to end their postseason hopes.
Tech's tournament action concludes with two events in Johnson City – the Buccaneer Classic from Feb. 28 to March 1 and the ETSU Classic from March 13 to 15, both hosted by East Tennessee State, pitting Tech against the Bucs five times. ETSU finished 22-27-2 last season, 6-11 in SoCon play.
Also in the Buccaneer Classic is Tennessee and Bowling Green. It will be the 22nd meeting between the Golden Eagles and the Lady Vols, who went 43-17 last season, including a 14-10 record in the Southeastern Conference. Tennessee won its NCAA Regional, topping Longwood, Ohio State and North Carolina, before falling two games to one in its Super Regional against Florida.
Before returning to Johnson City, however, Tech will travel to Nashville for a weekend series against Lipscomb. The Lady Bisons finished 42-15-1, including a 16-4 mark in the Atlantic Sun and sweeping the league tournament. Lipscomb appeared in the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional, beating Alabama State, then falling to Arizona State twice.
In the ETSU Classic, the Golden Eagles will also face Radford. The Highlanders finished 25-34, 12-12 in the Big South.
"I think the early intensity and challenging make-up of the schedule will bode well for us when we enter conference play in March," DePolo said. "This year we happen to play our first six conference games on the road. Additionally, our conference games versus the top three finishers from last year are on the road as well. So, hopefully we will be able to lean on our preseason experiences and let them serve us well during conference play."
Tech will get a mid-week non-conference test at Western Kentucky, before opening Ohio Valley Conference play on March 21 at Austin Peay.
The Golden Eagles will make another weekend trip to Eastern Illinois (March 28) and SIUE (March 29), then a non-conference battle at in-state rival Middle Tennessee (April 1), all before Tech opens its home slate on April 4 against Eastern Kentucky.
Among the six home dates including the twinbill with the Colonels, Tech will also host Morehead State (April 5), Chattanooga for a single game on April 8, Murray State (April 11), Tennessee State (April 18) and Belmont (April 19).
The Golden Eagles will also head to Jacksonville State (April 14), Southeast Missouri (April 25) and UT Martin (April 26) to close out the 2020 regular season. All Ohio Valley Conference dates are doubleheaders.
The OVC Tournament once again will be held in Oxford, Ala., at Choccolocco Park.
All times and dates are subject to change.