VALPARAISO | The Valparaiso softball team is going back to the NCAA tournament and this time the Crusaders are bringing along some experience.
Valparaiso will travel to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan in NCAA regional play on Friday evening. California and Central Michigan will meet in the other first-round game in the double elimination tournament.
The Crusaders were sent to Louisville in their first NCAA appearance last year where they lost to the Cardinals 6-4 and to Kentucky 5-4 on national television. The Wolverines eventually won the Louisville regional.
"Last year was a really cool experience. We were excited to go out and play Valparaiso softball," junior Angie Doerffler said. "(NCAA games) are the same game we've been playing since we started softball. The atmosphere changes, but we'll just go out and have fun again and enjoy it."
The Crusaders (34-25) swept Youngstown State on Saturday in Chicago to cap off a second straight Horizon League tournament championship in which Valparaiso had to win five straight games to earn a NCAA bid.
Valparaiso coach Jordan Stevens still had a wide grin when he arrived at the selection show party at Wings Etc. on Sunday evening. Despite not knowing the opponent, Stevens spent much of Sunday in preparation mode.
"We've been looking at potential opponents, just doing what we can in order to to get a head start," Stevens said.
Michigan was one of the teams that Stevens and his staff looked at. The No. 8 Wolverines (45-10) are making their 19th straight trip to the NCAA tournament and have captured regional championships in eight of the last nine years.
"Our upperclassmen know what to expect," Stevens said. "We have confidence going in and we're playing good softball. We know we put a good product on the field (last year). We won't be affected by the stage."
Whiting's Mel Dumezich will begin her final NCAA tournament at home as No. 16 Texas A&M was the last team to earn a home regional. The Aggies (39-15) will open against Penn on Friday night on ESPN2.