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Softball season starts

By David Caffey
On February 9, 2012

  • Sophomore guard Joe Jackson dives to try to keep a ball inbounds against Xavier. Jackson has played well recently, despite shooting poorly from the field. David Minkin

The era of new head coach Natalie Poole begins today as the University of Memphis softball team opens up their season on the road with a doubleheader against No. 2/3 Alabama and South Alabama in the Mardi Gras Invitational in Mobile, Ala.

For Poole, opening the season against a team as highly ranked as the Crimson Tide can set the tone and establish expectations for the rest of the season.

"You're facing a team (Alabama) that you're going to see in the postseason," Poole said. "You're facing a team that's basically going to create every scenario that you need to be in before you get into conference play"

Memphis is 0-2 all-time against the Crimson Tide with the last meeting in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tuscaloosa regional tournament in which The U of M fell 7-1.

The Tigers will take on tournament host South Alabama in the second game of the doubleheader, the first of two times the teams will meet during the tournament. The U of M will continue the weekend with games against Jacksonville State and Mississippi State.

All four teams that Memphis will face are in the top 70 of the RPI. Poole said her team recognizes the challenge that comes with opening the season on the road against top-level teams.

"They understand what it's going to take, and they understand that all those teams we're facing here in the beginning are all teams in the end that we want to see," Poole said. "If we can't compete with that then we're going to struggle when we get to post-season."

After finishing up in Mobile, the Tigers head to Las Vegas, Nev. for the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic and an opening match up with UNLV. The weeklong tournament will also include games against Hawaii, BYU and Indiana.

"It's going to be a tough couple of weeks on the road," Poole said. "We're going to play 11 games in two weeks"

The Tigers were picked to finish fourth in Conference USA's preseason poll, the highest the team has been placed in the program's six-year history. Poole said the team has their sight set on another postseason appearance.

"Because they've made it, they know what it takes to get back," she said. "We've set our goals based on what they've accomplished and taking them a step further."

Memphis' home opener is Feb. 21 against Mississippi Valley State, and they will host the Blues City Classic tournament beginning against Miami (Ohio) on Feb. 24.

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