Wednesday, September 26, 2012

2013 Mountain West scheduling news

Bits and pieces of information regarding the 2013 Mountain West softball schedules are coming to light, with teams expected to release their full slates soon.

An early peek at 2013 sees a possible change in scheduling philosophy at Fresno State.  The Bulldogs, who have advanced to more NCAA Tournaments (31) all-time than any team in the country, faced the best of the best under legendary Coach Margie Wright, who announced her retirement in May.

When new Fresno State Coach Trisha Ford leads her team into the 2013 season, Bulldog fans will notice a decidedly different non-conference slate from previous years.  The program will not be participating in the two most prestigious tournaments it's been traveling to for many seasons.

 For the first time in eight years, the Bulldogs are skipping the nation's highest profile and most demanding tournament, the Cathedral City Classic.  The tourney has been the site of some of Fresno State's biggest wins in school history, including last season's 6-3 win over then-No. 5 ranked UCLA.  Since 2006, the Bulldogs -- in this one tournament alone -- have defeated national powers Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, UCLA, Virginia, UMass, North Carolina, Maryland, Northwestern, Penn State and Texas Tech to name just a few.

Clearly, the Cathedral City Classic has been a pivotal tournament that helped boost Fresno State's RPI over the past decade.  Also noticeably absent from the 2013 Bulldog schedule is the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton.  A mainstay in that tournament for a generation, Fresno State will not play in the tourney for the first time in a quarter century.

Like Cathedral City, the Garman Classic (previously known as both the Kia Klassic and PONY Invitational over the years) was always a key tourney that solidified Fresno State's reputation for playing one of the nation's strongest non-conference schedules.  The Bulldogs won the prestigious Garman championship twice, including as recently as 2008.  It too was the site of some of the biggest wins in program history.

Fresno State over the years had beaten perennial powers Arizona State, Florida, Oklahoma, Michigan (twice), Florida State, Washington, Arizona, Illinois (twice), Notre Dame, Nebraska, Iowa, UL-Lafayette, Oregon State and North Carolina (twice), among others, at that tourney in Fullerton.  Twice in the past five years, Fresno State beat a Top 5-ranked Michigan team at the Garman Classic, including a 3-1 win in the 2011 season when the Bulldogs snapped the Wolverines' 22-game winning streak.  Wright's squad also topped then-2nd ranked Arizona State 6-1 in Fullerton in the 2007 season.

While this year's Garman Classic takes place March 14-17, Ford's Bulldogs will compete that weekend at the Capital Classic in Sacramento against the likes of host Sacramento State, Texas State, Kansas, and Ford's alma mater, St. Mary's College.

San Diego State is set to host or co-host three tournaments again this season in its last year as a Mountain West member.

The Aztecs have already solidified the full tournament fields for each of their tournaments, and those fields will include a bevy of Mountain West teams.  The annual Campbell-Cartier Classic (Feb. 14-17) will feature a powerful field, including 2012 Women's College World Series qualifier Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Kentucky and Washington, in addition to UC Riverside.

In March, San Diego State will co-host, along with the University of San Diego, the annual San Diego Classics I and II.  In Classic I (Feb. 28-March 3), the field includes MW members Fresno State, Boise State, New Mexico and the host Aztecs.  Competing alongside them are Utah State (which, itself, will be a MW member beginning in the 2014 season), former MW member BYU, 12-time national champion UCLA, Long Beach State and USD.

In Classic II (March 14-17), MW members Colorado State and UNLV will be in the field, along with San Jose State, which will join the MW beginning in the 2014 season.  Along with those squads will be UMass, Buffalo, Bryant, Fairfield, Harvard, Long Beach State, Marist, Miami, Seton Hall, Texas Tech, UT-Arlington and the two co-hosts.

With Fresno State appearing in San Diego State's Classic I Feb. 28-March 3, the Aztecs will return the favor by traveling to the Bulldogs' annual Bayer CropScience Classic the following week.  Along with San Diego State, Fresno State's tourney will feature, among others, 2012 Women's College World Series entrant Oregon.  The Ducks appeared in the tourney last season and pulled out a come-from-behind, 5-4 win over the host Bulldogs after being down to their last strike in the seventh inning.

Despite the Bulldogs not appearing in Cathedral City, four MW teams will participate in that prestigious tourney.  Colorado State, Nevada, UNLV and San Diego State will all be in the field that features the biggest names in the sport, including Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, UCLA, Arizona, LSU, Oklahoma, Florida State, Oklahoma State and many more.

San Diego State will open its 2013 season Feb. 7-10 at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe with another loaded field that includes Arizona and Arizona State, along with numerous others.  Fresno State will host the Kick-Off Tournament Feb. 8-10 at Bulldog Diamond, featuring Sacramento State among others.  Colorado State and Nevada will both open the '13 campaign at the Red Desert Classic in St. George, Utah, against a field that includes Southeastern Conference powers Tennessee and Arkansas.

UNLV hosts its annual Louisville Slugger tourney on weekend two of the season in February.  Among the visitors:  BYU and Long Beach State.  Colorado State will host a tourney that includes Nebraska-Omaha in Fort Collins March 1-3.  Nevada will participate in the Libby Matson tourney at Pacific March 1-3.  Among the teams the Wolf Pack will face:  host Pacific, along with San Jose State and Southern Utah.

Some non-conference series that we know of:  Boise State will tangle with Arizona in Tucson March 8-9.  Fresno State will close the season May 11 with a doubleheader at Long Beach State.  Nevada will play a two-game series at Sacramento State in early April.  Fresno State will host Pacific in a March 20 single game.  New Mexico will play a pair at Oregon in Eugene in March.

Without a conference postseason tournament, the Mountain West's automatic NCAA Tournament bid will again go to the winner of the regular-season title.

Teams should have their complete schedules unveiled very soon, but we'll have more updates as they become available.