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Anderson seeks to beef up non-conference schedule, Tigers' in-state recruiting

Anderson seeks to beef up non-conference schedule, Tigers' in-state recruiting

May 16th, 2019 by Colin O'Brien in College Sports

COLUMBIA, Mo. — It's not easy to break news during live television, especially as a sportscaster, but that's what ESPN's Adam Amin did last week during the Southeastern Conference softball tournament in College Station, Texas.

Amin announced the first four teams of next spring's St Pete Clearwater Elite tournament, and breaking the news was easier because ESPN is hosting and televising the tournament, which includes Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.

The tournament will play its second season Feb. 13-16, 2020, at the Eddie C. Moore complex in Clearwater, Fla. This season's tournament included Florida State, Oklahoma, Tennessee, LSU, Oregon, Texas, Oklahoma State, Kentucky, James Madison, Notre Dame, Utah, Florida Atlantic and Hofstra, Missouri head coach Larissa Anderson's former program.

Anderson is well-connected in the softball scene and serves several positions on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association's executive board, recruiting committee and hall of fame committee.

The remaining teams participating in next season's Clearwater Elite will be released weekly during NCAA softball's postseason, which begins today. Missouri plays Cal State-Fullerton at 7:30 p.m. CST Friday on ESPNU in the Los Angeles regional.

The Tigers are a No. 2 seed in the regional, but Anderson said Tuesday that Missouri's placement in the same region as national No. 2 seed UCLA is an indication her program wasn't that close to hosting a regional in her first season, which would have been an impressive accomplishment.

"I don't think we were close to being in the top 16," Anderson said. "We didn't have the RPI. We did have the in-conference strength of schedule, but we didn't really have the out-of-conference strength of schedule. I'm really happy with being a 2 seed, because you look at some of the regionals, how competitive they are, it's possible we could have even been a 3 seed."

Missouri finished No. 32 in RPI but 12th out of 13 SEC teams, with Texas A&M a distant No. 50. The Tigers were No. 20 in strength of schedule, as their cumulative opponents went 1,704-1,151 this season (.597 winning percentage), 10th in the conference. The Tigers had seven wins against top-10 opponents, tied with Alabama and Kentucky for most in the SEC, but also lost games to teams that didn't make the NCAA Tournament, including IUPUI, Oregon and Pittsburgh.

Anderson agreed attending the Clearwater Elite tournament will help Missouri's non-conference strength of schedule in 2020. The Tigers were originally scheduled to make their first appearance in 2021 because the tournament doesn't want to overload on ACC or SEC teams, but a team dropped out and Missouri slid in.

"It's a great opportunity for us," Anderson said. "We're going to be going to Clearwater twice. We're going to open with the NFCA Leadoff Classic, which is going to be back in circulation in Clearwater, and then being able to go to the ESPN one, and then we'll go back to Mary Nutter.

"My whole philosophy is to prepare the team for the postseason, prepare them for conference play, and you only can do that going out and playing the best, to be able to expose where you're weak and to challenge you to get better."

The Mary Nutter Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., has long been a staple for Missouri, as both a recruiting tool and a trip out west for a program that has had at least one player from the Golden State on its roster every season since 2008.

But Anderson said she does not see the trips to the softball talent-rich areas of western Florida and southern California as recruiting trips.

"No. 1 for recruiting philosophy is to keep the best kids home," said Anderson, whose 2019 roster consisted of 11 in-state players. "I'm going to recruit the state like crazy, and I do not want Missouri kids going to other SEC schools or other conferences. If they're good enough to play at another SEC school, then I better be recruiting them."

Currently there are seven softball players from Missouri on other SEC rosters: Centralia's Madison Preston (Alabama) and Nicole Duncan (Arkansas), Kearney's Justice Milz (Georgia), Oakville's Katie Reed, Lutheran South's Jenny Schaper, Marquette's Meghan Schorman and Winfield's Olivia Ward, all at Kentucky.

Milz, Reed and Schaper are everyday starters for their teams, and Schaper and Reed were first- and second-team All-SEC selections, respectively. The list also does not include players like Blair Oaks senior Makenna Kliethermes, who will pitch next year at Oregon.

Nor does it include Bowling Green senior Gabi Deters, the 2017-18 Missouri Gatorade player of the year, who has signed with Kentucky.

"Because of that recruiting philosophy, it's not really going to change where I go," Anderson said. "I'm going to tournaments because of the competition, because of the experience, to be able to see quality teams. I think it's huge for players to be put in an atmosphere that is intimidating, especially for young players, to be able to experience that. Because that's what it's like in our conference, that's what it's like in postseason."