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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. The Virginia softball team begins the 2009 season at East Carolina’s Pirate Invitational this weekend in Greenville, N.C. The Cavaliers will face off against the host Pirates, who are receiving votes in both of the national polls, along with Middle Tennessee in a round-robin format. UVa will open play against Middle Tennessee at 11 a.m. Saturday before taking on East Carolina at 1 p.m. The event continues Sunday at 10 a.m. vs. the Blue Raiders and again at 2 p.m. vs. the host Pirates. Live statistics for each game will be available on

Virginia returns 12 letterwinners from its 2008 season where the team went 15-39 overall and finished eighth in the ACC standings with a 6-20 record. The Cavaliers also return seven starters: Kelly Haller (DP/C), Carly Winger (SS), Alison Pittman (DP/C), Sarah Tacke (RF), Lauren McCaskey (1B), Abby Snyder (3B) and ace Karla Wilburn (P). In addition to Wilburn, pitchers Allee Rife and Nicole Koren also return; Koren previously sat out the 2008 campaign after suffering an injury and sitting out the 2008 season. The Cavaliers welcome five newcomers to the 2009 roster: Clara Kendall, Giannina Cipolloni, Megan Wind, Rachel Harvey and Stephanie Coates.

“We are to a point now where we need to play someone else anyway and see where we are,” second-year head coach Eileen Schmidt said. “I feel like skill-wise we are where we need to be at this time of year. You don’t want to peak at this time of year but we are ready to play. We need to find out what we need to work on to get ready for ACC play.”

Middle Tennessee is coming off the 2008 season with a 22-31 including a 11-12 in the Sun Belt Conference. The Blue Raiders return 10 letterwinners, including six starters, including their leading hitter in Corrie Abel, who hit .381. She also led the team with 31 runs scored, 64 hits, a slugging percentage of .518, and an on-base percentage of .435. MTSU also return its leading pitcher from 2008 in Lindsey Vander Lugt. Vander Lugt started 36 games with an ERA of 2.23 and 125 strikeouts in 2008. Head coach Sue Nevar is in her second season with the Blue Raiders and her 13th overall as a head coach in the collegiate ranks.

Virginia and Middle Tennessee State have met six times and split the series, 3-3. The last time the two teams met in the 2007 Worth Wildcat Tournament in Tucson, Ariz. The Cavaliers took the first meeting 11-10 but fell the next day to the Blue Raiders, 11-2.

East Carolina, meanwhile, went 37-30 last season, including an 8-11 mark in Conference USA games. The Pirates return 12 letterwinners, including nine starters, and returns two of its top three hitters in Charina Sumner and Cristen Aona. Sumner batted .295 on the year and led the team with 65 hits while Aona hit .293 with 58 hits and 34 RBI. ECU also returns Brooke Swann, their leading pitcher from 2008. Swann started 42 games in 2008 and compiled a 3.25 ERA with 181 strikeouts on the year. Head coach Tracey Kee is in her 12th season with the Pirates and 22nd overall as a part of the East Carolina softball program.

The Cavaliers lead the all-time series against the Pirates, 33-22. The last time the two teams met was back in 2007. East Carolina defeated the Cavaliers 6-1 and 4-3 in a double header in Greenville. The last Virginia win in the series was a 3-2 victory on March 18, 2005 in Charlottesville.

“East Carolina has some pitching, they like to swing and they can run,” Schmidt continued. “They are a regional team every year so it will be a good opening weekend for us. Middle Tennessee is going to run a lot and they have consistent pitching. This weekend is an excellent barometer to see where we are compared to other teams in our region.”

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