TEMPE, Ariz. – After an offseason filled with excitement due to construction of a new state-of-the-art UK Softball Complex, University of Kentucky softball head coach Rachel Lawson and her 2013 squad will finally begin play when it travels to Tempe, Ariz., to compete in the Kajikawa Classic on Friday. The tournament, which will be played at both Farrington Stadium and the Tempe Sports Complex, will begin UK’s 17th season of softball.
Kentucky, which is coming off its fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament, – becoming one of 27 teams nationally to claim that honor – returns a majority of last year’s squad. The Wildcats are receiving votes in both major preseason polls.
Senior infielder Kara Dill leads the returning letterwinners after pacing the Wildcats in batting average last season, while junior pitcher Lauren Cumbess led the 2012 squad in ERA. Also returning is All-SEC freshman team performer Griffin Joiner and senior outfielder Alice O’Brien, who finished third and fourth last season in batting average respectively. Lawson and Co. also return established junior pitcher Ellen Weaver, who has success in her time in the circle for UK. Overall, UK returns 12 letterwinners from last year’s team that posted a 30-30 record, including winning a school-record six Southeastern Conference series.
The event, which features some of the best teams in the nation, will begin for UK on Friday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. when it takes on No. 3 California before concluding play Friday vs. Western Michigan at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, UK will play Oregon State at 4 p.m. and wrap up the day with No. 4 Arizona State at 6:30 p.m.. The tournament concludes on Sunday when UK faces Portland State at 10:30 a.m. and No. 20/21 Stanford at 1:30 p.m. All times are Eastern.
UK is no stranger to the Kajikawa Classic, having also played in the event in 2010. UK took down host Arizona State, Cal State Fullerton and Western Michigan at the event, while falling to San Diego State and California.
The Cal Golden Bears enter the season after advancing to the Women’s College World Series last season. Cal went 58-7 in 2012, finishing first in the Pac-12 with a 21-3 record. Cal is coached by Diane Ninemire, who holds an 1117-516 career record in 25 years with the Bears. Cal leads the all-time series with UK 3-1 with this being the first meeting since the two teams battled in the 2011 Lexington Super Regional. Cal would win the best of three set to advance to the WCWS.
After finishing second in the Mid-American Conference last season with an overall record of 28-25, Western Michigan returns 11 letterwinners to its 2013 squad. The Broncos are coached by Kathy Leitke, who is in her 13th season with Western Michigan. UK and WMU last met in the 2010 Kajikawa Classic with the Wildcats posting a 5-1 victory.
Oregon State begins the season fresh off an appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season. Second-year head coach Laura Berg leads OSU after posting a 36-23 record last season and a 9-14 mark in Pac-12 play. The Beavers return 14 letterwinners from last season. This is the first ever meeting between the two teams.
Arizona State, who is hosting the event, had a fantastic 2012 season. The Sun Devils finished third overall at the WCWS last season, posting an overall record of 53-11 while finishing second in the Pac-12 with an 18-4 record. Arizona State returns 13 letterwinners from last year’s squad. Kentucky defeated ASU in its previous lone meeting 5-2 in the 2010 season opener, which was also part of the Kajikawa Classic.
The Portland State Vikings enter the 2013 season fresh off a first-place finish in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference Mountain Division last season. The Vikings finished 28-25 last season, including a 15-5 mark in conference and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Portland State has 12 letterwinners returning from last year’s team. This is UK’s first ever meeting with Portland State.
The Stanford Cardinal was a tournament team a year ago, posting a 40-19 record to finish sixth in the Pac-12. The Cardinal has 13 letterwinners returning from last season’s squad. Stanford is coached by John Rittman, who is in his 17th season, holding a 681-313-3 career record. Stanford leads the all-time series 4-0 over the Wildcats. The two teams last met in 2011 when Stanford won 4-2.
UK will travel to San Diego the following weekend to play in the 23rd Campbell/Cartier Classic, which will be hosted by San Diego State.
Kentucky will play host to the SEC Tournament this season for the first time in school history. The event, which is considered one of the most prestigious softball tournaments in the nation, will be May 8-11 in Lexington. The championship game will be featured on ESPN2, while all other games will be shown on ESPNU. Ticket information for the tournament will be released next week on UKathletics.com.