The third-ranked Arizona softball team released its 2021 schedule on Tuesday, a 55-game slate that begins Feb. 11 and features several ranked opponents along with some new quirks thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
Here is the full schedule (click to enlarge) along with some takeaways:
- Arizona has 22 games against ranked opponents. All but four—the home series vs. No. 1 UCLA—are away from Hillenbrand Stadium. The rest are true road games except for the neutral site matchup with No. 8 Alabama in Austin.
- Those ranked opponents are No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Washington, No. 6 Texas, No. 8 Alabama, No. 10 Oregon, No. 12 Florida State, No. 16 Arizona State, and No. 21 UCF. Arizona also faces Stanford and Utah, who are both just outside the Top 25. The games vs. Texas, Alabama and UCF are one-offs. The rest are series.
- The Pac-12 is rolling with four-game series this season. They will be played across three days, with one day featuring a doubleheader. However, only three games will count toward the conference standings. If all four games are played, the second game of the doubleheader will be counted as a non-conference game. The idea is to squeeze as many games in as possible since postponements are inevitable. (And Pac-12 softball is the best in the country, so the more conference games the merrier, right?)
- Arizona’s place as a Women’s College World Series contender will be tested right off the bat as it opens the season at No. 6 Texas. Two days later, the Wildcats will play No. 8 Alabama in Austin. The Crimson Tide eliminated UA from the 2019 WCWS but the Wildcats exacted revenge in the shortened 2020 season by winning two games in Tuscaloosa. Texas might not be as good as expected because reigning National Player of the Year Miranda Elish, an elite two-way talent, opted out of the season.
- After returning from Texas, Arizona is home for two straight weekends. It will host a pair of invitationals and seven of the eight opponents are mid-majors. The lone exception is a rare non-conference game against Oregon State.
- After the final game of those invitationals—vs. Colorado State on Feb. 28—Arizona does not play at home until March 26 when it begins a four-game series vs. Oregon State. In between, the Wildcats have a two-week-long trip to Florida to play USF, No. 21 UCF, Florida A&M and No. 12 Florida State. Then they open Pac-12 play at No. 2 Washington.
- The Wildcats will use their Pac-12 bye week in mid-April to host two games vs. New Mexico State as well as an exhibition against the Mexican National Team, which features former UA aces Danielle O’Toole and Taylor McQuillin. Early the following week, Arizona will host GCU for a Wednesday doubleheader before resuming conference play that weekend at ASU. Every UA game from April 9 to May 2 is in the state of Arizona.
- Because the 2020 conference season was never played, Arizona has the difficult version of the Pac-12 schedule again in 2021. That means it has to face Washington, Oregon, ASU and Stanford on the road. And while the Wildcats do get to host UCLA, the other home series—vs. Oregon State, Utah and Cal—feature arguably the three worst teams in the conference. So, given the overall weakness of Arizona’s home schedule, there is a very strong chance that they will be undefeated at Hillenbrand Stadium heading into the UCLA series.
- The UCLA-Arizona series closes out the regular season and undoubtedly will determine the Pac-12 champion. And since it is in mid-May, there is a decent chance some fans will be allowed in Hillenbrand Stadium by then.
- As of now, a conference mandate bans fans from attending Pac-12 sporting events. Parents are allowed in on a school-by-school basis, but UA is prohibiting them too. However, these policies can be retracted at any time as the conditions of the pandemic change.
- Fun fact: Arizona soccer and Arizona softball both play at ASU on Friday, April 16. Soccer kicks off at 7 p.m., while softball begins at 6:30 p.m.