EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - The SIUE softball team plans to get things going in a hurry when it starts the 2017 season Friday.
The Cougars open the Mardi Gras Classic in Monroe, Louisiana, against Grambling State at 9 a.m. CT. SIUE also has games with Northwestern State, Prairie View, host Louisiana-Monroe and Sam Houston State.
All figured, the Cougars are slated to play five games in three days, including two games both Friday and Saturday. After Grambling, SIUE tangles with Northwestern State at 11 a.m. On Saturday, SIUE faces Prairie View at 1 p.m. and Louisiana-Monroe at 7. The Cougars conclude with Sam Houston State at 10 a.m. Sunday.
"You always want to get off to a good start to the season," SIUE Head Coach Sandy Montgomery said. "We will see what we need to work on in the opening tournament."
The Cougars, coming off a 28-26 season that featured a third consecutive appearance in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship game, are seeking bigger and better things.
"We have high expectations this season," Montgomery said.
No surprise. Those expectations include faring well in early nonconference tournaments, contending for the OVC regular-season crown and competing for the league's tourney title. The OVC Tournament winner automatically qualifies for the NCAA Tournament, and that's the Cougars goal.
"For us, opening tournaments matter a lot because it affects your RPI (Ratings Percentage Index)," Montgomery said. "We have a tough schedule, and we will play some good teams in our tournaments this season. I believe it's the second-toughest schedule we've had. The 2014 schedule was the toughest one."
The Cougars expect quality competition at Louisiana-Monroe.
"Playing five games the opening weekend is a challenge," said Montgomery. "We will focus on one game at a time, but we will take a look at some different people because we have a deep team."
It starts in the pitcher's circle with senior left-hander Haley Chambers-Book, the OVC Pitcher of the Year in 2015 with a 25-7 record, 1.45 earned run average and 315 strikeouts in 231.1 innings.
"She won't throw every game in the opening tournament," Montgomery said.
Chambers-Book, catcher Tess Eby, second baseman Allison Smiley and outfielder Whitney Lanphier serve as the team's captains. Smiley batted .279 with three home runs and 19 RBIs last season. Eby hit .263 with five home runs and 29 RBIs. Both played in all 54 games. Lanphier appeared in 31 games last season. Chambers-Book, Smiley and Lanphier were members of the 2014 team that won the OVC Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.