CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The Virginia softball team (0-0, 0-0 ACC) opens the 2012 season this weekend at East Carolina's Pirate Classic in Greenville, N.C. The Cavaliers will meet Drexel and East Carolina twice, along with Canisius, in the five-game round-robin tournament.
The Cavaliers open up the year Friday with a 10 a.m. contest with the Dragons, followed by host ECU at 2 p.m. On Saturday, Virginia will face Canisius at 10 a.m. before a rematch with Drexel at 12 p.m. UVa will conclude the tournament with a second game with East Carolina at 12 p.m. Sunday. All contests will be played at the ECU Softball Stadium and live statistics will be linked on VirginiaSports.com.
Virginia is coming off a 24-31 season (5-14 ACC) in 2011 but returns 14 letterwinners and eight starters from that squad. Sophomore Stephanie Harris led the Cavaliers a year ago with a .329 average and 30 RBI en route to earning second team All-ACC honors as a rookie. Senior captain Giannina Cipolloni hit .303 and set the program's single season record for steals with 32. She was a second team all-region honoree a year ago.
The Cavaliers, opening the season in the state of North Carolina for the fourth consecutive year, were picked to finish fourth in the ACC preseason poll. Head coach Eileen Schmidt begins her fifth season at the helm of her alma mater and is two wins away from 100 victories at Virginia.
Drexel went 15-27 (7-14 CAA) a year ago. The Dragons are led by senior Paige Collins, who paced the offense with a .333 average, 33 RBI and set a single-season program record with nine home runs as a junior. She is a three-time first team all-conference selection and made the summer roster for the Canadian National Team.
Virginia is 6-0 all-time against Drexel. The two teams met twice last year at the season-opening tournament, Campbell's Hampton Inn Tournament, in Buies Creek, N.C. The Cavaliers claimed both victories, 4-3 and 6-0.
Canisius finished 20-21 (7-9 MAAC) in 2011 and this year was picked to finish fourth in the conference's preseason poll. Senior Lizza Gatto, recently named to the preseason all-conference team, led the Golden Griffins last season with a .319 average, 26 runs and 21 steals.
The Cavaliers are 9-0 all-time vs. Canisius but have not met since the 1991 season. That year, Virginia earned an 8-0 win in Charlottesville.
East Carolina, coming off its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance, received votes in the USA Today/NFCA preseason poll. The Pirates (41-22, 14-10 C-USA) won their second consecutive C-USA tournament title and went 2-2 in the NCAA Regional in College Park, Md. Sophomore Kristi Oshiro led ECU at the plate as a rookie with a .314 average, 58 hits, 37 runs and eight doubles. She was named to the league's all-freshman team and is one of three East Carolina players selected to the C-USA preseason team, along with senior Suzanne Riggs and sophomore Jill Jeinick. ECU was picked to finish fifth in the 2012 conference standings.
Virginia is 34-24 all-time vs. East Carolina. The two teams met once last season in Greenville, N.C., with the Pirates earning a 3-0 victory.