EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – After three consecutive seasons of taking her team into the title game of the Ohio Valley Conference Softball Championships, SIUE Head Coach Sandy Montgomery isn't about to change too much of her team's routine.
"If you are going to be good, you have to play a tough schedule," said Montgomery. "You have to get your kids to buy in and believe in what you are doing as well as the process that it takes to get to a championship at the end of the season."
Montgomery announced the 2017 schedule will have five tournaments, including a home tournament at Cougar Field March 17-19.
This will be SIUE's first tournament at the NCAA Division I level. The last time SIUE played host to a tournament at Cougar Field was 2008. SIUE welcomes Toledo, Butler, Ball State and Northern Kentucky.
"Our tournament is not easy," said Montgomery. "We have Butler who is coming off a good 2016 season and has added a solid freshman pitcher. Ball State has been doing very well. NKU has a new coach and new mindset. Toledo is always in the mix and can be a dangerous opponent."
The Cougars open the 2017 season at the Mardi Gras Classic Feb. 10-12 in Monroe, Louisiana, with games against Grambling, Northwestern State, Prairie View A&M, host Louisiana-Monroe and Sam Houston State.
"There are some quality teams down there, and we want to hit the ground running," said Montgomery.
The Cougars move into SEC territory the next weekend with a single game Feb. 16 at Auburn followed by the Auburn Tournament against Auburn, Evansville and Mercer.
"The single game at Auburn and then playing in their tournament will be a huge challenge, but we've got a good balance of RPI games as well as winnable games, which is what we always try to do."
SIUE also travels to the Baylor Tournament (Feb. 24-26) and the South Florida Tournament (March 10-12). The Cougars also have three neutral-site games at South Florida against Penn (March 7), South Dakota State (Mar. 8) and LaSalle (Mar. 8).
After the SIUE Tournament, the Cougars have a challenging nonconference schedule that includes home games against Kansas (Mar. 22) and Bradley (Apr. 4), and road games at SIU Carbondale (Mar. 29), Illinois (Apr. 11), Saint Louis (Apr. 18) and Missouri State (Apr. 26).
The OVC season includes doubleheaders against the other 11 teams in the league.
SIUE is at home against Tennessee State (Mar. 25), Belmont (Mar. 26), UT Martin (Apr. 1), Southeast Missouri (Apr. 14), Austin Peay (Apr. 29) and Murray State (Apr. 20). Road doubleheaders are scheduled for Eastern Kentucky (Apr. 8), Morehead State (Apr. 9), Jacksonville State (Apr. 22), Tennessee Tech (Apr. 23) and Eastern Illinois (May 6).
The OVC Tournament is set for May 10-14 in Oxford, Alabama, at Choccolocco Park.
"It will certainly be a challenging season," said Montgomery. "We're going to focus on each weekend at a time; working hard to get better every week and winning. This campus expects us to win."