Division I college softball begins this weekend with Alabama, Troy, Alabama State and Jacksonville State hosting tournaments. UAH competes in Division II and plays host to a tournament in Albertville.

*Alabama chose to open at home for the first time since the 2010 season. The Crimson Tide hosts Lehigh and Georgia Southern in the Leadoff Classic on Friday and Saturday at Rhoads Stadium.

The Crimson Tide returns 11 players from a team that finished 44-13 a year ago but failed to advance past the NCAA Regional. Pitcher Montana Fouts, 75-21 in her career, and catcher Ally Shipman were selected to the preseason All-SEC team. Shipman began her career at Tennessee and hit .350 with eight home runs and 46 RBI in her first season at Alabama.

Michigan transfer Lauren Esman, who pitched in 80 games for the Wolverines, gives Alabama a left-handed option at pitcher. Outfielder Faith Hensley, a Ball State transfer, was the MAC Player of the Year last season.

"This weekend is to get every hitter. We have 17 hitters on the roster, at least one at-bat," said Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy, whose team is ranked as high as No. 6. "And then four pitchers, I want to see everybody pitch in a game. That's the goal for this weekend."

Lehigh won the Patriot League title last year and played in the NCAA Regional at Washington. The Mountain Hawks beat Weber State and lost to the host team twice. Georgia Southern was 13-34 last season.

*Auburn and South Alabama will each play at in the Division NFCA Leadoff Classic on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Clearwater, Florida. The teams will not play each other in the tournament. Auburn, the 21st-ranked team in the country, plays St. John's, Fordham, Pitt, Indiana and Illinois. South Alabama plays Louisville, No. 8 Northwestern, St. John's, No. 12 Tennessee and Indiana.

Auburn finished 40-17 last season and went 1-2 in the NCAA Clemson Regional. The Tigers' return pitcher Maddie Penta led the SEC in wins (24) and ERA (1..76).

"It's a stiff field," said Auburn head coach Mickey Dean. "It's some veteran teams. It's going to be a great challenge for the first weekend of the season. On Friday, I will make the lineup. Then after Friday, our team is the one that will be really making the lineup. It's the first weekend. We are going to try and see a lot of players and give them opportunities the best that we can."

*UAB begins the A.J. Daugherty tenure at the McNeese State Cowgirl Classic. Daugherty is in his first season at the UAB head coach after compiling a 260-568 record the past six seasons at Wallace State Community College. His teams were 111-10 the past two seasons.

The opening test comes against Central Arkansas and Texas Southern on Friday. UAB will play Idaho State, Central Arkansas on Saturday and McNeese State on Sunday.

"You want to be tested in road environments, and we look forward to this weekend," Daugherty said. "Our energy and focus need to be consistent regardless of the venue, and we will have the opportunity to see that this weekend."

*Troy plays host to SIU-Edwardsville and Belmont in the Trojan Invitational on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The tournament marks the beginning of Eric Newell's tenure as the program's head coach.

Newell was 302-88 in the past eight seasons at Auburn-Montgomery and is 556-209 in 16 seasons as a head coach. He inherits Sun Belt Conference Preseason Player of the Year Kelly Horne, who hit .353 with 14 home runs last season, and standout pitcher Leanna Johnson.

*Jacksonville State had to call an audible to begin the season. The Gamecocks were slated to play in a tournament at Mercer. That event was canceled by weather, so the Gamecocks will play host to Buffalo Army, with each team scheduled to play four games. Games will take place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The Gamecocks, who were 17-5 at home last season, weren't originally scheduled to play at home until March 10.

*Preseason Southern Conference favorite Samford will play in the Black & Gold Invitational at Southern Miss this weekend. Samford plays Seton Hall on Friday and Saturday, and the Bulldogs face Southern Miss on Saturday and Sunday.

Samford pitcher McKenzie Newcomb was the SoCon Freshman of the Year last season after finishing 21-8. She was selected as the SoCon Preseason Pitcher of the Year. She's joined in the circle by Jordyn Partain, who was 11-9 last season.

*UNA has a slight change to its opening game series with visiting Mississippi Valley State. The opening game has been moved up to two hours, with the first pitch scheduled for noon. The teams will play a doubleheader on Saturday and the series finale on Sunday.

*Alabama State plays host to Stinger Classic Softball Tournament with a field that includes Kennesaw State, UT-Martin, Tennessee Tech and Western Carolina. The Hornets play Western Carolina on Friday, Tennessee Tech and Western Carolina on Saturday and Tennessee Tech on Sunday.

*Division II teams began regular season play last week. UAH, 3-1, hosts the UAH Charger Chillout at Sand Mountain Park in Albertville. The tournament will include 18 Division II teams, and they will play 46 games.

UAH plays Kentucky State and Trevecca Nazarene on Friday, Indianapolis on Saturday and Ohio Dominican and Kentucky Wesleyan on Sunday.

Sophomore Lawren Hayes is off to a quick start for the Chargers. Thus far, she is 10 of 15 at the plate, with a .667 average, with five runs, a double, a triple and four RBI.

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