First-year Utah Valley University head softball coach Nikki Palmer announced her team's 2014 schedule. The Wolverines will play 56 total games, including five against NCAA Tournament qualifiers, two against every in-state foe and a full WAC slate.
"We are very much looking forward to our upcoming season," Palmer said. "We have some solid opponents on the schedule that will without a doubt challenge our team and make us better."
The Wolverines will spend almost a month and a half away from home to begin the season, playing in four warm-weather tournaments. Twenty-five of UVU's 41 non-conference games come from those tournaments, beginning at the Red Desert Classic in St. George, Utah, which runs Feb. 7-9. There, the Wolverines open the season against Idaho State, Nebraska-Omaha, Weber State, UT-Arlington and Nevada.
St. George won't be the last time UVU sees regional rivals ISU and WSU in 2014. The Wolverines make the trip to Ogden to face the Wildcats for a doubleheader on March 19 before returning to Orem to play host to the Bengals on March 25.
The week following its trip to St. George, Utah Valley heads down for the Easton Desert Classic. Running from Feb. 14-16, the three-day tournament in Las Vegas pits the Wolverines against Long Beach State, Toledo, host UNLV, Portland State and Boise State.
The meeting with Portland State on Feb. 16 marks the first of five games for Utah Valley in 2014 against NCAA Tournament qualifiers from last season. A former Pacific Coast Softball Conference rival, the Vikings of PSU won the Big Sky Conference last season to advance to the NCAA Regionals for the third consecutive year.
The month of February winds to a close at the Mayfair Invitational in Long Beach, Calif. From Feb 27 to March 1, the Wolverines will play five games against a very impressive field which includes UC Santa Barbara, host LBSU, Illinois, 2013 NCAA qualifier Oregon State and 2013 College World Series participant Michigan.
Michigan, ranked as high as sixth in the country a year ago, earned an eight-seed into last season's NCAA Tournament and advanced all the way to Oklahoma City for the CWS. It will be just the second meeting in any sport between the two sets of Wolverines.
"We know the Mayfair Invitational specifically will help prepare us for our conference opponents," Palmer said. "We'll see some very good programs there."
After its time in Long Beach, Utah Valley returns to the Beehive State but goes straight to the capital city for a doubleheader with Utah on March 4. Trips to in-state foes Utah State (Apr. 1) and last season's PCSC champion BYU (May 6) also await the Wolverines in 2014, not to mention home contests against the Aggies (March 18), Cougars (Apr. 8) and Southern Utah (Apr. 23).
"The in-state games always provide us with great competition, and it is fun for us to stay close to home and continue to play in front of our fans in those kinds of rivalries," Palmer said.
To end the tournament portion of its schedule, UVU makes its return to the Rebel Spring Games in Kissimmee, Fla., where it will play 10 games in early March. Opponents on this year's docket include Akron, Sacred Heart, Siena, St. Peter's, Creighton, Indiana State, Albany and Howard.
WAC play officially gets underway on March 28 when the Wolverines open a three-game series at Bakersfield. In league play, Utah Valley will travel to Seattle U (Apr. 4-5) and Kansas City (Apr. 18-19), while hosting series with Grand Canyon (Apr. 11-12) and New Mexico State (Apr. 25-26).
The WAC season will set the final seeds for the WAC Tournament, which gets underway March 8 at Seattle U. The winner claims the WAC's automatic postseason bid and will represent the conference at the NCAA Regionals.
"I'm very excited about the conference schedule and seeing the teams that we will be able to host at home," Palmer said of UVU's first WAC slate. "We anticipate doing well in conference this year and competing hard for our first NCAA berth."
The Wolverines will close the regular season with three non-conference games when it travels to Eugene, Ore., to face the Oregon Ducks — a team that earned a three-seed to the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and advance to the Super Regionals. UVU will play two games in Eugene (Apr. 29) before closing its season at BYU in early May.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.