James Madison Head Coach Mickey Dean announced the 2015 softball schedule Friday, featuring 21 home games and a total of 15 games against NCAA Tournament teams, including last year’s national runner-up, Alabama.
The Dukes, who went 45-15 in 2014 and won the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season and tournament titles, open up the year playing five non-conference tournaments in February and March.
“Any time we set up our schedule, we are preparing our team for the CAA schedule and the NCAA Tournament,” Dean said. “Our ultimate goal is to get to the Women’s College World Series, but there are steps before that and in order to make those steps, you have to set your team up and prepare them to excel at the most important part of the season.”
The year kicks off Feb. 13-15 when they travel to Jacksonville, Florida, to compete in the Osprey Invitational, with the season opener coming against in-state rival Virginia Tech.
The following weekend, Feb. 20-22, JMU plays in its toughest tournament of the year in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at the Easton Bama Bash. The Dukes face only 2014 NCAA tournament teams with a pair of games against host Alabama, which advanced to the WCWS national title game, two games against Lipscomb and one game versus Michigan.
JMU remains in the southern region with a trip to Orlando from Feb. 28-March 1 for the Citrus Classic, featuring three games against top-flight opponents, one of which will be televised on ESPN3 (TBA). The Dukes take on the likes of Georgia, Minnesota and Missouri, all of which were top 16 seeds a year ago in the NCAA Tournament.
“You look at the CAA Tournament, NCAA Regionals, Super Regionals and so forth and you have to play back-to-back weekends like this,” Dean said. “What better opportunity than to kick it off this way because this is what it will be like in the end. I think it will open our eyes a bit to see who we are and where we need to go.”
Madison opens up the home slate at Veterans Memorial Park on March 4 with a mid-week double-header against Virginia. That weekend, March 6-8, the Dukes host the JMU Invitational, which includes the field of Stony Brook, Rhode Island and Maryland.
The in-season tournament portion of the schedule concludes March 13-15 when JMU treks back down to Orlando to compete in the UCF Spring Fling Tournament, which includes a game on the final day against host UCF, which made the NCAA Tournament a season ago.
“I know we’re going to be young, probably the youngest in the country,” Dean said. “People may say this [schedule] is too much and I don’t think so. We don’t treat it in a four-year or three-year cycle. The only year that matters is this year. We have to prepare this year’s team for this year.”
CAA play begins March 21-22 on the road as JMU faces Towson in the first of seven conference weekends. The Dukes also face in-conference road tests at Hofstra (April 3-4) and Delaware (April 18-19) while hosting Charleston (March 28-29), UNCW (April 11-12), Elon (April 25-26) and Drexel (May 1-2) in Harrisonburg.
“This league is getting better from top to bottom,” Dean said. “Every team has gotten better pitching and players, so we have to prepare for that. We’re excited about that. We want competitive games and to go out and have every game mean something.”
JMU also takes mid-week, double-header trips to North Carolina (March 25), East Carolina (April 8) and Longwood (April 22) this season while also hosting Virginia Tech twice more on home soil (April 29).
The CAA Championship is set for May 6-9, hosted by the conference’s regular-season champion and top seed. The tournament victor earns the CAA championship crown and automatic bid for the NCAA postseason.