Minnesota Duluth will open its softball season Friday in Mankato, Minnesota, and St. Scholastica will open Thursday, Feb. 18, in Northfield, Minnesota.

It’s been a long wait after COVID-19 wiped out the bulk of last season.

UMD opens with a doubleheader against Concordia-St. Paul at 2:30 p.m.

The Bulldogs face Minnesota State-Mankato in another doubleheader at 2:30 p.m. Saturday before taking more than a month off before playing Mary in a doubleheader March 17 in Minot, North Dakota.

UMD was picked to finish fifth in the NSIC Preseason Softball Coaches’ Poll, with Augustana picked to win the 16-team league. The Bulldogs’ Lauren Oberle and Sam Pederson were listed as their “Players to Watch.”

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UMD got 15 games in last season, going 7-8 against some of NCAA Division II’s top teams in Kansas and Florida before the season was cut short. Six of eight position starters return, while the Bulldogs will get a boost from a deep freshman class featuring 11 players, including Dea DeLeon of Esko and Kiana Bender of Cloquet.

Oberle, a shortstop, returns as captain for her fifth season and earned All-NSIC Second Team honors in 2019, batting .309 with a career-high ten homers and .566 slugging percentage. Pederson is a junior right-handed pitcher. As a freshman she started 28 games, going 15-9 with a 3.06 earned-run average while striking out 78 in 162 1/3 innings.

Head coach Jen Walter will look to the freshman group to add depth while also competing for immediate starting roles.

  • CSS opens with a doubleheader against Crown at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 18, part of six games scheduled for the Saints at the Dundas Dome in Northfield to kick off the season.

The Saints were picked to finish on top in the UMAC Softball Preseason Coaches’ Poll released Wednesday, garnering 61 points and six first-place votes to finish ahead of Northwestern (54 points, three first-place votes) and Wisconsin-Superior (50 points).

St. Scholastica returns three UMAC honorable mention selections in Olivia Howe, Nicole Anders and Toni Bishop. Howe was 19-for-27 batting with eight RBIs in last year’s shortened season. The junior will also help anchor the pitching staff while Bishop, the 2017 UMAC rookie of the year, will be behind the plate.

  • UWS has a new coach in Melissa Fracker who will look to keep the Yellowjackets near the top after finishing second in 2019. Sophomores Kaela Kraemer and Davriana Horvath both hit over .400 last season.