Feb. 2, 2009
As if starting the season on the road for the first time since 2003 (or 2005 if you count fellow Tallahassee opponent, Florida A&M, as an ‘away’ game) wasn’t tough enough, the Florida State softball team will play its first game of 2009 against a team that has received votes in the preseason Top 25 polls. First pitch for the Seminoles is against Iowa at the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational in Austin, Texas, on February 6. The Hawkeyes received votes in the preseason Top 25 poll as did the Noles’ second opponent of the year, tournament host Texas.
“I would much rather play teams receiving votes the first weekend. It is a true test to how everything is working and running,” Florida State head coach Lonni Alameda said. “The funny thing is no one has played any games yet, so right now there really aren’t any underdogs. You just have to go in and play your game to see what everyone is about.”
But the year doesn’t just begin with a challenge. The Seminoles will face 10 teams ranked in the preseason ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 poll throughout the 55-game season. Among those are three teams that competed at the 2008 Women’s College World Series (Florida, Louisiana-Lafayette and Virginia Tech) and two fellow ACC opponents, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
“I think that it’s very important that we’re playing a tough schedule,” Alameda said. “It’s going to be pretty exciting to see how we respond to the teams we play.”
One of the biggest tests for FSU this season will be in-state rival, Florida, which was ranked No. 1 in the preseason and continues to maintain the top spot heading into the opening weekend. The Gators made their first WCWS appearance last year, losing to Texas A&M in the semifinal game and finishing the season 70-5.
“As a growing program, to go out and play the best, to challenge yourself every weekend let’s you really see where you’re at,” Alameda said. “The preseason is the time to really understand the character this team has. Everyone is shooting for the end result. It’s the whole marathon versus the sprint mentality. We’re playing for three months from now.”
Aside from the monstrous out of conference schedule, this year’s ACC pool is stronger than ever despite the loss of the Hokies’ top ace, Angela Tincher. Teams like UNC, Georgia Tech and even NC State are looking to stake its claim on the league crown this season.
“The ACC is really tough this year with Georgia Tech getting votes and North Carolina and Virginia Tech being ranked in the preseason Top 25, “Alameda said. “Tech obviously lost [Angela] Tincher, but they’re a very competitive team. They went to the College World Series last year and gained experience that you can’t emulate. The Hokies know what it feels like to win. North Carolina is a very strong team and NC State was young the last couple of years so they’re going to be quality competition this year. This says a lot about the ACC and the competitiveness of our conference.”
Following the Texas tournament, Florida State will host back-to-back weekend tournaments which bring to town Michigan, which was ranked No. 5 in the preseason, as well as East Carolina, Purdue and Mississippi State which have all received votes.
The packed schedule breaks down to 26 home games (including three home tournaments), 29 road games (including three road tournaments), and the ACC Tournament in Raleigh, N.C., in May. But the Noles, led by three seniors, hope the season doesn’t end until they get to Oklahoma City and the WCWS.
Coach Alameda on her staff: “I am very blessed to have some of the most amazing coaches in the country working with me at Florida State. We all bring something different to the field and it makes for a very cohesive staff. Angel Santiago is one of the most creative minds in the game. He relates well with players as he works one-on-one with hitters and the entire group in team defense. His brother, Tommy, instills solid fundamentals in each player and ensures that they all understand what needs to be done to be successful on the field. Sara Pickering is an NCAA decorated athlete whose passion, love and knowledge for the game relates well with the players. Tiffany McDonald is another decorated player who knows the FSU program well after playing here for four years. She brings a sense of pride and confidence to the field every day. We believe that the combination of this coaching staff and the dedication and effort of the team will make for an exciting and very successful journey in 2009.”