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The Daily Tar Heel

Preview: A look ahead at the UNC softball team's season

Sophomore first baseman Kiersten Licea (1) finishes rounding the bases after hitting a home run during a 9-1 victory over Pittsburgh at G. Anderson Softball Stadium on March 1, 2020.

The North Carolina softball team’s season will look different this year, with 38 ACC games on the schedule — the most since the ACC Tournament's inception in 1992. They normally play about 20 conference games, but schedules during the COVID-19 pandemic are far from solid.

"We are excited to have a schedule for 2021 and to be preparing for our season right now," head coach Donna Papa said in a press release. "Having had our season get cut short, I know our players and staff are both grateful and excited that we are set to compete this spring."

The Tar Heels will begin their 2021 season over Valentine’s Day Weekend at No. 19 South Carolina’s Carolina Classic. The event is the first of four tournament weekends for the Tar Heels, who will then enter conference play.

During the opening weekend, the team will face UNC-Greensboro and South Carolina twice each. UNC last played the Gamecocks in 2019, when the Tar Heels won in a 4-0 shutout. UNCG beat the Tar Heels last year, several weeks before the season was unexpectedly cancelled. 

Next, UNC will host the ACC Pod weekend, as a replacement for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, since the Big Ten has limited its league sports to conference play. Over the weekend, the Tar Heels will play a pair of three-game series against Boston College and Syracuse, respectively. 

UNC will then travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for the Crimson Classic. They will play Troy and No. 8 Alabama twice and Memphis once over the weekend. Last year, the Tar Heels upset No. 2 Alabama for their highest-ranked win in program history. The win was one of only a few bright spots on the shortened season for the team, as it finished with a 10-14 record — its first losing season since 2014. 

The Tar Heels will conclude non-conference play with the Carolina Classic, hosting Connecticut, Elon and South Carolina and playing all three — one each against Elon and South Carolina, and twice against the Huskies. 

In an unusual conference schedule, the Tar Heels will not play midweek contests. Instead, ACC weekends will consist of four-game series with one game on Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. Traditionally, there would just be one game on Saturday, and the Tar Heels would play a different team during the week.

“Our ACC Conference continues to get more competitive each year," Papa said. "We will be playing three ACC teams ranked in the top 25 and both teams receiving votes.”

Conference play will consist of eight four-game series. The Tar Heels will travel to play No. 12 Florida State, Clemson, Pittsburgh and No. 25 Duke, and will host Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Louisville. Notre Dame and Clemson also received votes for the rankings, but did not make the top 25. 

The Tar Heels will hope to bounce back from their disappointing, shortened 2020 season. They are led by senior pitcher and first baseman Brittany Pickett, who is a three-time member of the All-ACC first team and has a career ERA of 2.39. UNC has been picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll of ACC coaches, but Pickett and Papa will aim to beat that prediction. 

“We will be looking to improve on last year with our ultimate goals of being able to play our season and compete for championships in conference and beyond,” Papa said.


@dthsports |

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