Coming off three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, four A-Sun conference championships in the last three years and having to replace the most accomplished senior class in the history of the program, USC Upstate head softball coach Chris Hawkins announces the schedule for the 2016 season.
“Our schedule is going to be every bit as challenging as it has the last three years. The difference is that this year’s team will be young and inexperienced compared with the veteran teams we had that led us to the success we achieved over the last three years,” said Hawkins. “While our team is young, it is also talented. We brought in four junior college transfers to help provide some veteran leadership and we have players who are returning who have proven to be leaders and capable of great things. Lexi Shubert was not only the best pitcher in the A-Sun last year, she was one of the best pitcher’s in the nation. I like what I have seen early in our offseason workouts and look forward to seeing the team progress as we approach the season in February.”
Upstate’s 2016 schedule will once again feature a tough A-Sun slate of games and a non-conference schedule against several marquee named programs. The Spartans will face Power 5 conference teams NC State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Virginia from the ACC, Ohio State from the Big Ten and South Carolina from the SEC. The games against Virginia Tech, Virginia, Ohio State and South Carolina will be home games at Cyrill Stadium.
Upstate will play in four tournaments early in the season in preparation for the start of A-Sun play, and will host three of the tournaments. After opening the season on the road in a doubleheader at Gardner-Webb on Feb. 11, the Spartans will host the Upstate Invitational Feb. 19-21 with games being played at Cyrill Stadium and at Furman’s Pepsi Stadium. Coming to the Upstate area and joining the Spartans and Paladins for the tournament will be Akron, Kent State, NC Central, Oakland and Savannah State. The Spartans will play Oakland and NC Central on Feb. 19, Akron and Savannah State on Feb. 20 and Kent State and NC Central on Feb. 21. Each Upstate game will be played at Cyrill Stadium.
Upstate will again host a two-site tournament the following weekend when it hosts the Spartan Classic Feb. 26-28 with games being played at Cyrill Stadium and at Furman’s Pepsi Stadium. Joining the Spartans and the Paladins for the tournament will be La Salle, Morehead State, Ohio, Ohio State, Virginia and Virginia Tech. The Spartans will play La Salle and Virginia on Feb. 26, Morehead State and Virginia Tech on Feb. 27 and Ohio State on Feb. 28. Each Upstate game will be played at Cyrill Stadium.
Upstate will host the Buffalo Wild Wings Spartan Invitational March 4-6 with all games being played at Cyrill Stadium. The Spartans will welcome Elon, Presbyterian, SIU-Edwardsville and Valparaiso to town. Upstate will face Valparaiso and SIU-Edwardsville on March 4, Presbyterian on March 5 and Elon on March 6.
Upstate’s fourth tournament appearance will be March 11-13 when the Spartans travel to the Tampa, Fla., area to play in one of USF’s tournaments. The Spartans will battle New Mexico State and USF in Tampa on March 11, Central Michigan and UMass-Lowell on March 12 in Clearwater and Army on March 13 in Clearwater.
Upstate will host three A-Sun three-game series at home and will hit the road in the league three times. The Spartans will open A-Sun play on the road at Lipscomb on March 19-20 before playing host to Florida Gulf Coast March 25-26. A trip to Deland, Fla., to take on Stetson on April 2-3 follows before the team returns to Cyrill Stadium for back-to-back home series against Jacksonville April 9-10 and Kennesaw State April 23-24. Upstate closes out A-Sun play and the regular season on the road at North Florida May 7-8. The A-Sun Tournament will once again be hosted by Florida Gulf Coast in Ft. Myers May 11-14.
Including the four tournaments that take place early in the season, Upstate will play 20 non-conference games at home and 13 away from the friendly confines of Cyrill Stadium. In addition to the home games in the three tournaments they will host, the Spartans will battle Furman in a doubleheader on March 1, ETSU in a doubleheader on March 23 and South Carolina for a single game on April 12. Upstate will play away from home in a doubleheader at Gardner-Webb on Feb. 11, a doubleheader at Charlotte on Feb. 24, a doubleheader against Green Bay on March 9 in Clearwater, Fla, prior to the start of the USF Tournament, a single game at North Carolina on March 29, a single game at NC State on March 30 and a doubleheader at Western Carolina on April 6.
Upstate has won four conference championships in the last three years, taking the A-Sun Tournament titles in 2013 and 2015 and the regular season championships in 2014 and 2015. The success has culminated in three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament from 2013-15, each time playing in the Tuscaloosa Regional hosted by Alabama. The Spartans finished 2015 with a 44-10 record and stormed through the A-Sun with an 18-2 mark. The league awarded the Spartans with the player of the year, pitcher of the year, freshman of the year and coach of the year awards, as well as a school record eight all-conference selections.
While Upstate returns last year’s A-Sun pitcher of the year in Lexi Shubert and the conference freshman of the year in Karla Beasley, Hawkins routinely started eight seniors in the lineup in 2015. The most successful senior class has left a lot of holes to fill. But, that also presents a lot of opportunity for those on the team last year and the 12-person recruiting class that came in this fall.