The 64 teams have been selected, the 16 regionals are set. In a wide open field with no clear-cut favorite, espnW has you covered. Here's a look at five things to watch in the NCAA softball regionals, May 19-22.
Tough road for defending champions
The committee did defending champion UCLA (33-17) no favors by sending it to the Gainesville regional as an unseeded team. It's a cross-country trip and the Bruins might face the SEC East champion and No. 4 overall seed Florida Gators (47-9). UCLA has been to 25 of the 29 Women's College World Series, so if there's any team with the history and experience to pull off the upset, it's the Bruins. But last year's star, Megan Langenfeld, is now an assistant coach for the Bruins, who are on the road for a regional for the first time since 2003. Gator senior pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (17-2, 1.08 ERA) and Florida's potent offense (.328 batting average, 13th in NCAA) might be too much to overcome in the Gainesville regional.
Crimson Tide ready to roll
Alabama will host Jackson State on Friday at 6 p.m. at Rhoads Stadium. While this would normally not be noteworthy -- the Crimson Tide have hosted a regional for six-straight years -- this year's regional is more meaningful as it comes in the wake of the devastating tornadoes that ravaged Alabama last month. The damage and destruction to the area was so significant, the Tide's final four home games were canceled and the school was not sure it could accommodate a regional. Just a few weeks later, the No. 2 seed Crimson Tide and two-time SEC pitcher of the year Kelsi Dunne (272 strikeouts, 1.17 ERA) will play their first home game since April 17, hoping to give the local fans a little something extra to cheer about during these tough times. Alabama went 20-0 at home this season.
It's good to be home
Several unseeded teams will host regional games against higher-seeded powerhouses. Penn State, a bubble team at 29-22-1, now finds itself not only in the field of 64 but hosting a regional in University Park. No. 13 seed Oregon is "rewarded" with a cross-country trip to Pennsylvania where it will face Albany (N.Y.) on Friday. In Louisville, the unseeded Cardinals (36-18) out of the Big East host a regional featuring No. 7 seed Cal (39-10). This is not an easy trip for the Golden Bears, who are forced to play on the road due to facility issues. Cal's star pitcher Jolene Henderson (34-7, 276 strikeouts, 0.81 ERA) is good enough to help the team overcome the road disadvantage. Finally, Maryland will host a regional featuring No. 11 seed Baylor Bears and ace pitcher Whitney Canion (1.28 ERA, 19th in the country). Will home-field advantage prove to be the difference for the underdogs?
Arizona State: Bookend championships for the seniors?
Arizona State enters the 2011 NCAA tournament as the top-ranked team in the nation and for the first time in its storied program history as the overall No. 1 seed. This Sun Devils squad is deep and experienced, with seniors who won the national championship as freshmen in 2008 and who have never missed an NCAA tournament. The Sun Devils finished the season with an impressive 50-6 record, winning the Pac-10 behind a potent offense (.348 batting average, third in the NCAA) and solid pitching, highlighted by spectacular freshman Dallas Escobedo (27-3, 1.40 ERA). If you want to see the Sun Devils and star shortstop Katelyn Boyd in action this weekend, the Tempe Regional will be televised in its entirety on ESPNU.
Farewell to a legend
LSU's legendary head coach Yvette Girouard announced in March that she will retire at the end of the 2011 season, her 11th in Baton Rouge. Girouard is one of just three softball coaches to take two programs to the Women's College World Series and is second all-time in wins. Can the Tigers honor her legacy with one more Women's College World Series appearance? To advance to the Super Regionals, the Tigers will have to oust No. 16 seed Texas A&M in College Station, where the Aggies are a remarkable 22-0 at home this season.
Bonus thing to watch: Keep an eye on the Knoxville and Ann Arbor regions, two of the toughest in recent tournament memory. Knoxville features SEC tournament champion Tennessee (No. 14 seed), along with Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech and Big South champion Liberty. That's a powerhouse regional, with three of the top 18 teams in the last RPI. Ann Arbor is home to No. 10 seed Michigan (and All-American pitcher Jordan Taylor) and two top 20 teams in regular season Big East champion Notre Dame and Kentucky. Coverage is on ESPN2 and ESPN.