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All 14 Big Ten teams compete starting Friday

ROSEMONT, Ill. – The 2016 Big Ten softball season will begin on Friday with all 14 conference teams taking the field.

Thirteen of 14 teams will open the year at various tournaments around the country, while Nebraska opens its season at Northern Iowa.

Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Rutgers will each travel to different parts of Florida for a season-opening tournament, while Indiana, Maryland, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin head to Arizona. Iowa will open its season in a tournament in Corpus Christi, Texas, Minnesota will play in a tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., and Ohio State opens its season at a tournament in Baton Rouge, La.

Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern are each coming off a 2015 NCAA Tournament appearance, where the Wolverines advanced to the Women’s College World Series title game.

Reigning Big Ten and Tournament Champion Michigan appears at No. 2 in both the USA Softball and National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Preseason Polls. Minnesota is ranked No. 13 by USA Softball and No. 14 by NFCA. Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State were among those receiving votes in both major polls.

The 2016 Big Ten Softball Tournament will be hosted May 12-14 by Penn State at Beard Field in University Park, Pa. All-session tickets are on sale now.

2016 Big Ten Softball Storylines:

–    The Big Ten returns 24 All-Conference performers from last season, including Big Ten Player of the Year Sara Groenewegen of Minnesota and Pitcher of the Year Megan Betsa of Michigan.

–    Fourteen first-team performers and 10 second-team standouts return to their respective squads this season.

–    Twenty-four returning Big Ten players were named All-Region performers last season, including first-team NFCA All-Americans Kelly Christner and Sierra Romero from Michigan, second-team selections Megan Betsa of Michigan and Sara Groenwegen of Minnesota and third-team honorees Sierra Lawrence from Michigan and Kiki Stokes from Nebraska.

–    Big Ten teams combine to return 45 NFCA All-America Scholar-Athletes to the field this season. Illinois, Indiana and Northwestern each welcome back six NFCA All-America Scholar-Athletes to this year’s squad.

–    Five Big Ten players were named to the watch list for the 2016 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award: Michigan’s Megan Betsa, Kelly Christner and Sierra Romero, Minnesota’s Sara Groenewegen and Nebraska’s Kiki Stokes.

–    Big Ten programs combine to face 53 teams out of the field of 64 in last season’s NCAA Tournament, including every team that advanced to the Women’s College World Series.