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COLUMBUS, Ohio – In 2011, the Ohio State softball team again will have a tough slate of opponents, playing 13 games vs. 11 teams that made the NCAA Regional a season ago, including defending national champion UCLA.

“Once again we’ll play a challenging schedule that will prepare us for the intense competition in the Big Ten,” head coach Linda Kalafatis, who is entering her 15th season at Ohio State, said. “There are some excellent non-conference match-ups that will give our team experience to battle our conference rivals and build a post season resume.”

The Buckeyes return 11 letterwinners, including First Team All-Big Ten selection Alicia Herron, a junior shortstop, and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Melanie Nichols, from the 2010 squad that ended the year with a 39-14 overall record after making its fourth NCAA regional appearance in the last five seasons. 

“With seven new players on our roster, I expect we’ll have a lot of players get valuable playing time throughout the 2011 season,” Kalafatis said. “Our recent seasons have continued, both in their successes and disappointments, to provide motivation for this team to reach even higher heights. We will continue to work very hard in the off-season to be prepared for the challenges of a strong competition schedule.”

Ohio State opens the year at the Florida International Tournament where it will play five games in Miami, Fla. Including the Buckeyes, the tournament will feature four teams that advanced to an NCAA Regional last season. Highlighting the tourney will be the game vs. Kentucky at 4 p.m. Feb. 11. The Wildcats concluded their season in Columbus last year after Ohio State battled to a 5-3 comeback win May 22 at Buckeye field. The Buckeyes also will face two other NCAA Regional teams against FIU at 6 p.m. Feb. 11 and DePaul at 9 a.m. Feb. 13.

Following the South Alabama Tourney Feb. 18-20, Ohio State will travel to the Cathedral City Classic Feb. 25-27 to take on four NCAA Regional teams, including the defending national champion. The team opens the tournament at 10 a.m. Feb. 25 vs. Texas A&M. The next day, the Buckeyes will battle against BYU at 10 a.m. Feb. 26., who advanced to the Tucson Super Regional last year before falling to national runner-up Arizona.

In the final day, the Scarlet and Gray will play Nebraska at 9 a.m. before facing UCLA, the 2010 NCAA Champion, at 11 a.m. Feb. 27. The Bruins won the NCAA title after downing Arizona, 15-9, June 8 to win their 11th Women’s College World Series championship.

At the Tulsa Tourney March 4-6, Ohio State plays four teams, including North Dakota, Iowa State, Drake and host-Tulsa. The Buckeyes round out the final tournament of the spring in San Diego March 18-20 highlighted by games vs. San Diego State at 2 p.m. March 19 and Louisville at 10 a.m. March 20, both of whom are coming off appearances at the NCAA Regional.

The Buckeyes will remain in California for spring break with a game schedule against Loyola Marymount March 22 in Los Angeles, Calif.

Ohio State opens its Big Ten slate in Columbus with two games vs. Iowa March 26-27. The team will then travel to Minneapolis April 2-3 to face the Golden Gophers.

The Buckeyes step out of conference action to host Pittsburgh April 6 in a mid-week doubleheader in Columbus before hosting Illinois April 9-10 at Buckeye Field. The Fighting Illini were selected to an NCAA Regional a season ago.

Ohio State will travel to Bloomington for its first road mid-week doubleheader of the year at Indiana April 13 before returning home to host Purdue April 16-17.

The next four games for the Buckeyes will be away from Columbus with a mid-week doubleheader at Ohio April 20 that will follow with a Big Ten road trip to Evanston, Ill., to face the Wildcats April 23-24.

Ohio State will then play three-consecutive doubleheaders taking on Penn State (April 27) and Morehead State (April 29) at home before meeting the defending Big Ten champion and conference rival Michigan May 4 in Ann Arbor.

The Buckeyes close out the regular season, hosting Michigan State May 7-8 to conclude the home schedule before traveling to Madison, Wis., May 13-14 to play the Badgers.

Moving into postseason play, NCAA Regional action kicks off May 20-22 followed by the NCAA Super Regionals May 27-28 at campus sites to be determined. The 2011 Women’s College World Series will be held June 1-8 in Oklahoma City, Okla.