OXFORD, MS (WLBT) - Aiming for a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, the Ole Miss softball team kicks off the 2019 campaign this weekend in Orlando at the Friends of Jaclyn Tournament.
The Rebels face tourney host UCF in the season opener Thursday at 5 p.m. CT at the UCF Softball Complex. Ole Miss is also matched up with Minnesota on Friday (6:30 p.m.), Ohio State and George Mason on Saturday (4:30 and 7 p.m.) and North Florida on Sunday (2:30 p.m.).
The Rebels will be without head coach Mike Smith on the trip, who has been suspended for opening weekend for not meeting the university’s expectations for operating the program. Associate head coach Ruben Felix will lead the team for the five games in Orlando, and Smith will return to the field next week.
Getting underway in the Sunshine State, the Rebels embark on a 2019 schedule that will provide a stiff challenge. Ole Miss will face 16 teams that received a bid to the NCAA Tournament as well as 11 teams ranked in the USA Today/NFCA Preseason Poll, including five in the top-10.
After spending the entire month of February on the road, Ole Miss will return home to Oxford for 14-consecutive games at the Ole Miss Softball Complex. The Rebels open SEC play Mar. 9-11 against Arkansas, with Sunday and Monday’s matchups being featured on the SEC Network.
The Rebels will also be featured on your television set for a pair of games at South Carolina during the series set for Mar. 23-25. In total, Ole Miss will play eight games on national television in 2019.
Ole Miss returns a youthful but relatively experienced roster, with just three seniors on the roster. Among the group of seniors is USA Softball Player of the Year Top 50 Watch List member and Preseason All-SEC Kylan Becker, as well as hard throwing and big swinging pitcher/first baseman Brittany Finney.
15 of Ole Miss' 22 roster spots are assumed by underclassmen. However, the Rebels return plenty of experience from last season, with the sophomore class alone making 252 appearnaces and 125 starts in 2018.