The Nebraska softball team kicks off its inaugural season in the Big Ten Conference this week by playing six games in four days at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. The Huskers face a challenging schedule in the desert, opening the 2012 season with back-to-back games against top-15 teams.
Overall, Nebraska will face three teams ranked in the preseason ESPN.com/USA Softball poll, meeting No. 12 Washington on Thursday at 3 p.m. (Central) in the season opener, No. 8 Arizona on Friday and 23rd-ranked Georgia Tech on Sunday. The Huskers are ranked 20th in the poll, marking their first appearance in the preseason poll since 2007.
The Huskers finished with a 41-14 record, a No. 21 national ranking and an appearance in an NCAA Regional final last season. Nebraska lost only two significant contributors from last season in four-year starters Julie Brechtel and Heidi Foland, who are still with the team as fifth-year undergraduate coaches. The Huskers return eight position players who started at least 25 games last season, including a talented group of six players who each started at least 52 games in 2011.
That core group of six everyday starters includes five players who have earned all-conference accolades in their careers, two players who have been all-region performers and one All-American. Taylor Edwards enters her sophomore season after earning third-team All-America honors, second-team All-Big 12 accolades and one of 25 finalists for USA Softball Player of the Year as a freshman. Her twin sister Tatum also returns for her sophomore season after earning second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2011. Seniors Ashley Guile and Nikki Haget, along with junior Brooke Thomason, were each All-Big 12 selections in 2010, and Guile also made the all-region team that season.
In the circle, Nebraska's entire pitching staff returns from last season, led by senior right-hander Ashley Hagemann. Hagemann was a first-team All-Big 12 selection and second-team all-region honoree in 2011, ranking eighth nationally in strikeouts and 10th in wins. Hagemann's return gives NU a total of six returning all-conference players, the highest total to begin a season in school history.
Overall, Nebraska's 10 returning offensive players have combined for a .295 batting average in their Husker careers, while their combined returning home run, RBI and run totals from last season each rank among the top two returning totals from one season to the next in school history. The pitching staff has combined for a 62-34 record at Nebraska with a 2.53 ERA and an average of 8.2 strikeouts per game.
Courtesy: Nebraska Media Relations