The No. 10 Stanford softball team (8-1) travels to Palm Springs this weekend to take part in the Cathedral City Classic.
The Cardinal will play six games, including two against ranked opponents, at the Field of Dreams Complex, which boasts softball fields that are replicas of famous Major League ballparks like Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field.
The tournament brings in 30 teams, including 12 ranked teams, to the California desert for the four-day tournament. Seven of the eight Pac-10 Conference teams will be there, though Stanford will not play any of them.
This tournament is part of a pre-conference schedule that head coach John Rittman has called one of the most challenging Stanford has had in years.
Senior left fielder Alissa Haber believes that playing a tough early season schedule can only help the Cardinal down the road.
“It definitely helps to have played these games come Pac-10s, when we are playing good, ranked teams all the time,” Haber said. “We learn how to handle ourselves in pressure situations.”
Haber, a three-time All-American, is the Cardinal’s leader offensively, hitting from the leadoff spot. She has picked up this season where she left off last year, as she is hitting .500 with a home run, four doubles and nine runs scored thus far this season.
Also hitting well for the Cardinal is a fellow senior, catcher Rosey Neill. Neill enters the weekend with an impressive .478 batting average and two home runs.
Stanford plays its first game of the tournament tonight at 8 p.m. against the University of Tennessee (6-2).
The Lady Vols have won six consecutive games, riding on the success of two freshmen: third baseman Raven Chavanne and right fielder Kat Dotson. Chavanne, the reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Week, is hitting a robust .621 out of the leadoff spot, while Dotson is right behind her, hitting .556.
Tomorrow, the Cardinal plays a doubleheader, with its first game against No. 23 Northwestern (5-5) and its second against Long Beach State (4-5).
Northwestern has fared well against Pac-10 opponents already this season, beating No. 12 California last weekend. The Wildcats are led by last week’s Big Ten Player of the Week, sophomore Adrienne Monka. Monka is hitting .429 with four home runs and 10 RBIs.
Long Beach State is led by freshman Nalani St. Germain, who is hitting .385 with five home runs in the early season.
On Saturday, the Cardinal has just one game, a matchup with No. 24 Texas A&M (10-1). Rhainnon Kliesing is a star for the Aggies both in the circle and at bat. Kliesing is 6-0 with a 3.28 ERA and 51 strikeouts, while hitting .406 offensively.
Stanford closes out its weekend with a doubleheader Sunday against Syracuse (2-3) and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (7-3).
Huddled up in the wintery northeast, the Orange has played just five games, with both of its wins coming over Bryant University at the Louisiana-Lafayette Mardi Gras Tournament.
UNLV, on the other hand, has gotten great production out of senior Marissa Nicholas, who is hitting .467 with 12 runs scored.
Rittman expects this weekend to be a challenge for his team, but is excited for it.
“This weekend, we are going to be tested by playing some very good teams,” he said. “[Tournaments like this one] get you game-ready for the Pac-10.”
Although this team has a different look from last year’s Super Regional team, with the loss of All-American pitcher Missy Penna, Rittman likes the way it is shaping up so far.
“I really like the makeup of our team,” Rittman said. “We’ve really made progress the first two weekends and we are still trying to improve in some places.”
Haber agrees with her coach, believing some of the early season nerves have started to fade for the Cardinal.
“We’re playing a lot looser — people aren’t as tight,” Haber said. “We all have a lot more confidence.”