Softball: Season opens with trip to Atlanta for Buzz Classic

The UConn softball team competes against William Paterson University on Oct. 9, 2022. The Huskies swept their visiting opponents 16-0. Photo by Skyler Kim/The Daily Campus

Spring sports are beginning, and the UConn softball team will kick off their season with five games in Atlanta for the Buzz Classic.

Hosted by Georgia Tech at Mewborn Field, the gauntlet also features the Yellow Jackets, along with North Texas, Saint Francis and Illinois Chicago (UIC).

In the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Huskies were selected to finish third in the conference, behind DePaul and Villanova, respectively. UConn also received two first-place votes.

The Huskies won the Big East regular season title last season, finishing with a 20-4 record in the conference. They made it to the Big East Tournament championship game, losing to Villanova.

In the short fall schedule, UConn went 6-1, the loss coming against Boston College.

The Huskies, coached by Laura Valentino (in her fourth year as head coach), return sophomore outfielder Lexi Hastings and junior infielder Jana Sanden who made all-conference last season. Hastings had a batting average of .318 and 28 RBIs in her freshman year. Sanden continued where she left off with 37 RBIs in her sophomore year.

The season begins today with a doubleheader against Georgia Tech, who has a 3-2 record against the Huskies all-time.

The Yellow Jackets are led by senior catcher Emma Kauf, who was named to the preseason All-ACC team and is ranked the No. 8 catcher by D1Softball.

Georgia Tech finished seventh in the ACC last year with a conference record of 11-13 and an overall record of 38-18. They advanced to the ACC Tournament quarterfinal round, falling to Duke. They made the NCAA Regional in Gainesville, Florida, where they went 1-2 to end their season.

The Yellow Jackets were picked to finish sixth in the conference, behind Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Duke and Notre Dame. They received 15 votes in the USA Today/NFCA poll to begin the season.

Saturday marks another doubleheader, with UConn squaring off first against North Texas. It will be just the second meeting between the two programs, the last time being nearly five years ago when the Huskies won in Denton, Texas.

The Mean Green are nationally-ranked, as the No. 24 team in D1Softball’s preseason ranking. They’re the only ranked team in the Buzz Classic.

North Texas is coming off its best season with a 37-16 overall record and 17-7 conference record, earning a trip to their first-ever NCAA Regional with wins over Fordham and No. 25 Nebraska in Stillwater, Oklahoma. They defeated Western Kentucky in the Conference USA Softball Championship.

The Mean Green were selected to repeat as conference champions. Five players were selected to the Preseason All-Conference USA team: junior catcher Kalei Christensen, junior infielder Kailey Gamble, junior outfielder Lexi Cobb, senior pitcher Ashley Peters and sophomore pitcher Skylar Savage.

The second game of tomorrow’s doubleheader is against the University of Illinois Chicago. The Flames did not have a great season last year, finishing with a losing record of 13-32 overall and 10-15 in the Horizon League. The Huskies are 0-2 against the Flames, with two games played in late February 2016.

This season will be UIC’s first season in the Missouri Valley Conference. Despite UIC being projected to finish 11th (out of 12 teams) in the conference, they earned one first-place vote.

The Flames return senior third baseman Maica Ingles, who was named to the All-Horizon League second-team. Sophomore outfielder Grace Fleming returns after being named one of the conference’s best freshmen. However, first baseman Tara McElligott finished her career with a first-team All-Horizon League season.

The final game of the multi-team event will be on Sunday morning against Saint Francis. It will be the second meeting between the two schools following their first in March 2018.

The Red Flash were the unanimous selection to win the Northeast Conference, which would make it six titles in a row. They finished their season in the NCAA Regional, losing to Virginia Tech and Miami (OH).

Saint Francis is led by senior pitcher/utility Rachel Marsden, who was named the No. 8 two-way player by Extra Inning Softball. They also have a rising star in sophomore infielder Olivia Ulam, who made the All-NEC first team as a freshman.

UConn will not play at home until March 10, with trips set for Gainesville, Florida; Greensboro, North Carolina and Lynchburg, Virginia before then.

The first game of today’s doubleheader against Georgia Tech will begin at 4:30 p.m. The second game is set for 7 p.m.

Tomorrow’s game against North Texas begins at 11:30 a.m. They will face UIC at 2 p.m. that same day.

Sunday’s battle against Saint Francis will start at 9 a.m.

All five games are available to stream on ACC Network Extra.

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