BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana head coach Shonda Stanton has never been more excited to see so many travel bags.
The Hoosiers are packed up and ready to fly off to Leesburg, Fla. to kick off their 2021 softball season.
The games this weekend will be Indiana's first time playing since March 12, 2020, when the season was canceled due to COVID-19.
It's almost been a year since the Hoosiers last ran out on the diamond.
"This is a unique opportunity to play every Big Ten opponent this season," Stanton said when the schedule was released. "My staff is grateful to be at Indiana with the leadership of Scott Dolson; we appreciate the tireless efforts of his staff and the medical team. Above all else, my coaches and I are super proud of our student-athletes and cannot wait to take the field with Team 48."
While in Leesburg, Indiana will be taking on a trio of conference foes, playing each of them twice.
First up is Nebraska on Friday, Feb. 26. First pitch is scheduled for 10 a.m. ET and 12:30 p.m. ET. The Cornhuskers are coming off a 9-14 record in the 2020 season, and their veteran roster is comprised of seven seniors, five juniors, three sophomores and nine freshmen. Tristen Edwards is their lead returning bat after posting a .434 average on 33 hits with 22 RBI and 11 home runs.
Then on Saturday, Feb. 27, Indiana will take on Wisconsin with first pitch at 4:15 p.m. ET followed by game two at 6:45 p.m. ET. The Badgers posted a 14-10 record in 2020, and as a team, they hit .241 with 146 hits and 29 homeruns.
The final day of competition will be Sunday, Feb. 28, when Indiana plays Minnesota at 3:30 p.m. ET and 6 p.m. ET. The Gophers are led by first-year head coach Piper Ritter, who was the pitching coach the previous 13 seasons.
As for Indiana, the Hoosiers are returning all 10 of their starters from last season, including their top seven hitters from in terms of average, led by Gabbi Jenkins and Taylor Lambert.
Jenkins hit .413 last season with 26 hits, 11 runs and 12 stolen bases. Lambert followed that up with a .289 average to go along with 52 hits, 36 runs and 22 stolen bases.
Along with the experience on the side of the cream and crimson, they also have six newcomers that consist of five freshmen and one grad transfer.
Micah Schroeder is the transfer from Dartmouth, where she had a batting average of .365, which included 120 hits and 15 home runs.
The new names to get to know in the freshmen class are Amber Linton, Macy Montgomery, Grace Lorsung, Brooke Benson and Aaliyah Andrews.
All six of Indiana's softball games this weekend will be on BTN Plus, where a subscription is required to access the live stream.
And for all of the Hoosiers' softball games this season, there will be no fans in the stands: "Consistent with IU Athletics' ongoing efforts to protect the health and safety of students, coaches, staff, spectators and the local community, softball games will be played without fans indefinitely. IU Athletics' decision is in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and is consistent with what has transpired on all Big Ten campuses."