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IU prepares for first tournament of the season


Indiana softball players gather on the pitcher's mound during the game against Indiana State at Andy Mohr Field on April 1, 2014. File photo Buy Photos

For the fifth consecutive year, the IU softball team will begin its season at the Kajikawa Classic.

Last year’s Classic did not go as the Hoosiers would have liked. Losing four out of five games, their only win came against Bradley on the opening day.

But with players coming back from injury and new additions from a very impressive freshman class, the pieces are there for the Hoosiers to start off the 2015 season on the right foot.

“We are trying to win Big Ten Championships and go to the postseason, so everything we do right now is important, and I think that’s the piece of the puzzle that they need to understand, is that we can’t take any game lightly,” IU Coach Michelle Gardner said.

IU will be tested out of the gate, playing in back-to-back doubleheaders to start the tournament.

The Hoosiers begin their campaign 5:45 p.m. Friday against Western Michigan, who finished last season with a 17-34 overall record. This will be the 21st meeting between two teams. IU leads the all-time series 10-9-1.

The Hoosiers will then be back in action at 10:15 p.m. Friday for a late start against Oregon State, who finished its 2014 season with an overall record of 18-21.

For an IU team whose 2014 season was filled with injuries, Friday’s games are a good way to get returning players coming back from injury back in the swing ?of things.

Saturday’s games will clearly be the Hoosiers’ toughest day of the Kajikawa Classic. Their first game will be against University of San Diego, a team who turned its softball program back in the right direction after finishing its 2014 season with a record of 26-21. This will be the first ever meeting between the two schools.

Later that night, IU will play No. 16 Arizona State. The Sun Devils finished 2014 with a 46-12-1 record and earned a trip to the NCAA Regional. Arizona State leads the all-time series against IU, 5-1.

IU closes out the weekend with a Sunday ?morning matchup against Utah Valley, who made an appearance in the 2014 NCAA Regional after winning the WAC Tournament, regardless of finishing with a 18-42 record.

Given that three of the five teams IU plays this weekend had losing records last season, it’s easy to look ahead at what could be. But Gardner said she had a message for her team going into the weekend tournament.

“It’s going to be a grueling weekend with emotions running very high,” ?Gardner said.

This weekend will also provide a chance to see how the young freshmen handle competition at the NCAA level. But Gardner said her freshman class, otherwise known as “The Great Eight,” are all just part of the team.

“There are going to be first game jitters,” Gardner said. “But once they get on that field, it’s not freshman, sophomore, etc. It’s just one team, just Indiana across the chest.”

This is the first of four tournaments IU will travel to. The Wilson/DeMarini Desert Classic takes place Feb. 13 to 15, followed by the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic Feb. 19 to 21 and concluding with Citrus Classic II Feb. 27 to March 1.

“I can’t believe it’s here,” Gardner said. “Feels like it took a long time, but I’m excited and ready to go.”

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