The Ferris State University softball team's goals for the upcoming 2011 season are simple -- win the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Championship and earn a berth to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
In order to attain those goals, the Bulldogs will be facing many challenges along the way as part of their 50-game regular-season schedule.
"The team has some unfinished business they are eager to attend to this year," said head coach Keri Becker, who embarks on her 14th season at Ferris State this spring. "After the cancellation of the GLIAC Tournament in 2010, the players felt cheated and are out to take care of business earlier this year to solidify a spot in the NCAA postseason. While they don't dwell on the past, this group of student-athletes is determined to not let the past repeat itself."
This season's slate features matchups against five teams either ranked in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Division II Preseason Top 25 Poll or among those receiving votes in the national poll. Two GLIAC members, Wayne State (April 17) and Ashland (March 27) are ranked fifth and 16th in the nation, respectively while Saginaw Valley State (April 9-10) is listed as receiving votes. A pair of non-conference nationally-ranked teams in 13th California, Pa. (March 11) and Lewis (March 7), which received votes, also highlight the 2011 schedule.
Ferris State starts its 39th season of intercollegiate competition with an annual trip in the Florida Rebel Spring Games Tournament at Kissimmee, Fla. The Bulldogs will play 14 games over a nine-day period with two non-league contests per each scheduled day of play. Among Ferris State's opponents in the Sunshine State will be Southern Indiana (March 5), Slippery Rock (March 6), Northern Kentucky (March 9) and Bellarmine (March 9), Minnesota State (March 11), and Southwest Minnesota State (March 12) along with Wisconsin-Parkside (March 12).
The 32-game conference schedule commences March 25-27 in Ohio with doubleheaders versus league newcomers Lake Erie (March 25) and Ohio Dominican (March 26) before concluding the weekend with a twinbill at nationally-ranked Ashland (March 27).
The home opener is set for March 29 as Ferris State entertains Davenport for a pair of non-conference outings at the FSU Softball Field in Big Rapids, Mich. Two days later (March 31), Aquinas visits Ferris State in another non-league doubleheader as part of a eight-game homestand. The Bulldogs' GLIAC home opener will take place April 2-3 against Lake Superior State.
The remaining home schedule consists of matchups versus Findlay (April 15), Tiffin (April 16), nationally-ranked Wayne State (April 17), Northwood (April 20), and Grand Valley State (April 22-23). The Bulldogs close out the regular season at Hillsdale (April 29-30) with two contests per the consecutive days.
"Every year, the GLIAC shapes up to be very competitive top to bottom and with the addition of two (Lake Erie and Ohio Dominican) more teams and the expansion of our conference schedule, only the strong will survive the grueling regular season," said Becker, the all-time winningest coach in the program's history. "Instead of a single round robin (tournament) where we would play a doubleheader versus every team in the conference, teams will now play a divisional schedule. This type of schedule matches up teams within the division for two doubleheaders on back-to-back days. Playing the same team four times in a row will prove to be quite challenging, especially with the strength of teams within the GLIAC's North Division."
For the first time, the GLIAC will be separated into North and South Divisions. Comprising the North Division along with Ferris State are Lake Superior State, Northwood, Grand Valley State, Saginaw Valley State, and Hillsdale. The South Division consists of Lake Erie, Wayne State, Findlay, Tiffin, Ashland, and Ohio Dominican.
The top eight teams in the final GLIAC regular-season standings will receive an invitation to compete in the 2011 GLIAC Softball Tournament, which will be conducted May 5-6 at the Emerson Park Softball Complex in Midland, Mich., for the seventh consecutive year. The winner of the GLIAC Tournament will be crowned conference tourney champions and receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Regional Tournament.
The 2011 NCAA Division II National Championships will be conducted from May 26-30 at the James I. Moyer Sports Complex in Salem, Va.
Ferris State, which posted a 26-16 overall record with a third-place tying 17-9 GLIAC mark last season, returns 12 letterwinners from a season ago including six starters.