EDWARDSVILLE – SIUE softball Head Coach Sandy Montgomery announced the defending Ohio Valley Conference champion's 2015 schedule Monday.
The schedule includes teams from 18 conferences nationwide, including two schools that finished in the top 25 to close out the 2014 season.
SIUE faces Georgia, ranked No. 13 nationally in the final National Fastpitch Coaches Association's national poll, in the Bulldogs' home tournament on both Feb. 13 and Feb. 14. The Cougars meet Auburn, ranked No. 20 to close out the 2014 season, at the Tigers' home tournament Feb. 28
"You want to go to top 25 schools to play and see that level of competition," Montgomery said. "If we win the conference championship again, that's who we are going to get in the NCAA Tournament. If you don't play those teams during the season, you don't give yourself an opportunity to even come close to winning those games."
The Cougars, winners of the OVC Championship for the first time last season, play in four high-level tournaments to start the nonconference season.
SIUE begins the 2015 season Feb. 6-8 at the Louisiana Tech Tournament against Abilene Christian, host Louisiana Tech, Missouri State, Louisiana-Monroe, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
The Cougars' second weekend of play is at the Georgia Tournament (Feb. 13-15) with two games against the host Bulldogs, two games against Elon, and one game against Troy.
The Auburn Tournament is scheduled for Feb. 27-March 1 with the Cougars facing Connecticut, Texas State, Samford, host Auburn, and Ohio State.
"We're trying to play top-level competition in February," Montgomery said. "In tournaments, you can't always predict who you are going to get. You just know where you are going to go and who they think is going to be in the tournament."
The Cougars make a swing through Florida in March. It begins with five games at the South Florida Tournament (March 6-8) against Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, North Florida, and Bowling Green. SIUE also travels to Florida Gulf Coast March 10 to play FGCU and Pittsburgh.
SIUE has home nonconference games beginning with Bradley (March 17), Missouri State (March 25), and Saint Louis (April 15). The nonconference road schedule includes games at SIU Carbondale (April 1), Western Illinois (April 7), Kansas (April 22), and Saint Louis (April 22).
"You always want to come into conference play above .500 playing schedules like that," Montgomery said. "We're just trying to play quality competition to get prepared for our conference season. As always, the goal is to win the conference championship."
SIUE's conference play begins March 14 with a three-game home series against Murray State. It also serves as the home opener for the Cougars. SIUE and Murray State met in the championship game of the OVC Tournament last season with the Cougars earning a 12-1, six-inning victory for the conference title.
The conference schedule gives SIUE home doubleheaders with Jacksonville State (April 3), Tennessee Tech (April 4), Belmont (April 18), and Tennessee State (April 19). SIUE also has a three-game home series with UT Martin (April 25-26).
The OVC road schedule features doubleheaders at Eastern Kentucky (March 21) and Morehead State (March 22). The Cougars have three-game series at Southeast Missouri (March 28-29), Austin Peay (April 11-12), and Eastern Illinois (May 2-3).
"There's a lot of parity in the league, and if you don't show up you are going to get beat," Montgomery said. "February prepares us for that, and we've got to be ready to play because every game counts."
The OVC Tournament is scheduled for May 6-9 at the site of the school which earns the No. 1 seed.
List of nonconference opponents
School(s) - Conference
Connecticut - American Athletic (AAC)
Saint Louis - Atlantic 10
Pittsburgh - Atlantic Coast
Florida Gulf Coast, North Florida - Atlantic Sun
Georgetown, Seton Hall, Villanova - Big East
Ohio State - Big 10
Kansas - Big 12
Elon - Colonial
Louisiana Tech - Conference USA
Bowling Green - Mid-American (MAC)
Bradley, Missouri State, SIU Carbondale - Missouri Valley
Louisiana-Monroe, Texas State, Troy - Sun Belt
Abilene Christian - Southland
#13 Georgia, #20 Auburn - Southeastern (SEC)
Samford - Southern (SoCon)
Western Illinois - Summit
Arkansas-Pine Bluff - Southwestern Athletic (SWAC)