By: Jack Bell; Sports Editor
Just hours away from opening day for Western Illinois Softball. Head Coach Alisa Goler and the Leathernecks are headed to their annual opening day tournament at the Rosemont Dome. WIU is set to open the season with a double header on Friday, taking on Detroit Mercy and Valparaiso. A single game Saturday evening matchup with the Billikens from St. Louis. They will wrap up the weekend with a double header, taking on Bowling Green and Detroit Mercy on Sunday.
The Leathernecks will make their way to the Chattanooga Challenge and the Lindenwood Invite before traveling to the Sunflower State to partake in the Black and Yellow Challenge, hosted by Wichita State. The Shockers are unranked to start the season, but can defiantly find their way into the top 25 before taking on WIU.
Western will begin its spring break trip to Nashville, as they will head to the Middle Tennessee State Invitational, which features MTSU, Southern Illinois, Appalachian State and Green Bay. Staying in Tennessee, playing a midweek double header against Tennessee Tech on March 14th. On their way back to Illinois, they make a quick stop in Murray, Kentucky to take on the Murray State Racers on March 15th. One more non-conference test on Saturday, March 18th, as they visit the Fighting Illini in Champaign.
Western returns to Macomb to start an 8 game home stretch, beginning with in-state rival Southern Illinois Edwardsville on March 22nd. WIU opens conference play by welcoming the per-season favorite, South Dakota State on March 25. The Leathernecks remain at home, as they play host to the Bison from North Dakota State, with the series beginning April 1st.
Their first road series of conference play is the following weekend in Minneapolis, when they visit St. Thomas. WIU will stay on the road, traveling to South Dakota to take on the Coyotes on April 15th and 16th. They return home for a Wednesday midweek with Big Ten foe Iowa on April 19th, and will then welcome Kansas City for their final home series of the year on April 22nd and 23rd. WIU hits the road for their final 6 games, making trips to Omaha and the University of North Dakota to round out their regular season.
Senior Savannah Rodriguez and Sophomore Georgia Rea were named as players to watch for this upcoming season. Rodriguez punched out 43 batters in 53.2 innings of work in the circle. She has made a total of 59 appearances in her time as a Leatherneck, totaling 178 strikeouts in 193 innings pitched. Rodriguez is also very talented on the offensive side. She has batted just under .300 in her 4 years in Macomb.
Rea had a very successful beginning to her career in the purple and gold. As a freshman a season ago, she started in 40 of the 41 games she appeared in. She was the team leader in numerous different offesnive categories including home runs (five), extra-base hits (10), RBIs (14) and walks (15).
Western Illinois is picked to finish 8th in the pre-season polls.