The Scarlet Knights will begin play on Feb. 20 at 10:00 a.m. against LIU and return to the field at 12:00 p.m. to face Michigan. On Feb. 21, RU will play Eastern Michigan at 10:00 a.m., followed by a match-up with host Florida Atlantic at 7:00 p.m. Sunday’s opponents will be determined following Saturday’s action. The tournament will prove to be an early-season test for Rutgers because it will face three teams (LIU, Michigan and Florida Atlantic) that earned invitations to the 2003 NCAA softball tournament.
Head coach Pat Willis begins her 25th year at the helm of the Scarlet Knights, who finished 26-23 overall and 8-12 in the BIG EAST in 2003. The team returns 12 upperclassmen this year and will look to senior Nikki Childress (Cave Springs/Roanoke, VA), a first-team all-BIG EAST selection in 2003, to lead the offense. Last year, she led the team in batting average (.417), slugging percentage (.704), on-base percentage (.468), runs scored (26), hits (48) and runs batted in (25). She was also tied for the team lead in doubles (seven) and home runs (eight). She led the BIG EAST in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage, and ranked 11th in the NCAA in batting average.
The pitching staff will receive a boost thanks to the return of senior Leah Black (Rocky River/Rocky River, OH) from a medical redshirt. One of the top pitchers in the conference prior to her injury, she is hoping to build on a 2002 season in which she started 19 games and had the lowest ERA on the team at 1.75. Opponents batted only .189 against her and she struck out 108 batters to put her 12 strikeouts away from tying the school record of 433.
Rutgers will return to Florida on March 4 for the Speedline Invitational Tournament in Clearwater.