UCF Softball Ready to Kick Off 2021 Season

ORLANDO – The 20th season of UCF Softball is right around the corner, and as head coach Cindy Ball-Malone and company look to pick up where they left off in 2020, the team has high expectations for what they believe they can accomplish on the diamond this year.

It's an exciting time to be a fan of UCF Softball. Here is everything you need to know about Team XX heading into the season:

Head Coach Cindy "Bear" Ball-Malone is gearing up for year three with The Black and Gold. In June of 2019, Bear was announced as UCF Softball's second head coach in program history.

In the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, Bear led her Knights to a 21-5-1 overall record (.777 winning percentage) that included an 11-game winning streak from Feb. 14 through March 1 and wins over then No. 12 Tennessee and No. 16 Michigan.

The Knights secured the best start in program history as they were off to a 16-2 record to start the year. They finished the season ranked seven in the NCAA RPI and 21 in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 Coaches Poll. It was one of the best teams in program history, but unfortunately, the pandemic brought the hot start to an abrupt end.

In 2019, UCF went 34-21, 11-10 to finish in fourth place in the conference. Coach hit a career milestone in her third game at UCF, picking up her 100th win as a head coach with a win over Ohio State.

Prior to UCF, coach Bear came from Boise State where she led the squad to two NCAA Tournament appearances.

The UCF softball team released its 2021 schedule in early February. Highlighted by 25 home games, the 54-game lineup will mark the 20th season for UCF Softball.

"As expected, Team XX will be competing in one of the top strength of schedules in the nation. Though it might look a little different than most years with travel restriction due to COVID-19, we aren't letting that stop us," said Ball-Malone. "What I love most about Team XX is that although they expect to compete against the best in the country, they always understand that we are competing against the game and our best selves.

"We always look forward to strong in-state and out-of-state competition. Most of our out-of-state opponents are contenders in their respective conferences and have historically been postseason contenders. The American is a top-five conference in the nation so we take no conference opponent lightly. The addition of a game in each series against an AAC opponent will bring a new challenge which we look forward to taking on," said Ball-Malone. "We look forward to seeing our fans help us Protect The Plex this season."

The Knights will kick off the 2021 season on the road from February 13-14 as they are set for four games in two days with FGCU in Fort Myers, Fla.

All 2021 conference matches will include one doubleheader to make for a total of four games played over the span of three days. Dates and times for the doubleheaders will be announced later in the season.

To view the full, UCF Softball 2020 season schedule, click here.

  • The Knights' schedule includes 14 double headers, five at home
  • All seven conference series will include one doubleheader, making for four games played in the span of three days
  • UCF will face six opponents that made the NCAA postseason in 2019
  • There will be 25 chances to see the Knights play at home at the UCF Softball Complex
  • The Knights will face off against three teams that were ranked in the NFCA/USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll to begin the year

UCF heads into 2021 with almost all of its key players returning from 2020's historic team, including seniors Alea WhiteJazmine Esparza and Kyra Klarkowski, who each announced they would be returning for this season to take advantage of the extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA after the COVID-19 pandemic forced an abrupt end to all spring sports in 2020.

White has proven herself to be one of the greatest to ever step in the circle for UCF. Following the 2020 campaign, White currently sits third all-time in program history with 77 career wins, needing just four more to become UCF's all-time winningest pitcher.

White also owns several top-10 program career records, including ERA (2.36), strikeouts per seven innings (4.85), innings pitched (767) and appearances (143) just to name a few. During the season, she tossed three complete game shutouts and was named American Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week (Feb. 10), marking the ninth time she earned the award in her career.

After beginning her career at middle infield, Esparza has transitioned nicely to playing first base over the last several seasons for the Knights, posting a .987 career fielding percentage.

Esparza's bat was also a key component to the Knights' offensive firepower in 2020 as she finished the season slashing .321/.357/.491 with 16 RBI. In the last week of the shortened season, Esparza batted .348 with 7 RBI against some of the best teams in the country, including a solo home run against No. 16 Michigan to help lead the Knights to a 3-2 victory.

Finally, Klarkowski began the year in the leadoff spot for the Knights and was a hawk in center field, posting a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage to go along with two assists. Klarkowski's speed was also an asset to the team in 2020 as she was a perfect six-for-six on stolen base attempts.

At the dish, Klarkowski racked up 15 hits, including two extra base hits and scored 13 runs. Klarkowski's best game of the season came in a 7-3 win over Villanova early in the season, where she went three-for-three with an RBI and a run scored. Her return will solidify a strong Knights outfield.
The Knights have seven newcomers to the squad this year, including six freshmen and one transfer. Among the group are three infielders, three pitchers, and an outfielder.

The one transfer, Allyse Volpe, was named the D1 Softball AAC Newcomer of the Year in early February after posting a slash line of .352/.413/.507 and going 14-for-16 in stolen base attempts in 2020 with Bucknell University. Volpe will look to compete for an outfield spot for the Knights in 2021.

The Knights return almost their full roster from the previous season, so the new faces will have to beat out a 2020 starter if they are to make an immediate impact this season.

If you would like to learn more about each position on the team, you can check out the full roster preview here.

The American Athletic Conference released its 2021 Preseason Softball Coaches' Poll in January and UCF was predicted to finish first overall in the conference for the third time in program history.

The Knights, who last won AAC titles in 2014 and 2015, received six out of seven first-place votes, garnering 36 total points to claim the top spot in the poll over in-state rival South Florida. The Bulls were second with 31 points and just one first-place vote after being predicted to finish first in 2019 and 2020.

It marked the third time the Knights have been voted as the favorite to win the conference as they were also tabbed as favorites in 2015 and 2016.

Rounding out the rest of the poll, Houston was predicted to finish third with 23 total points, Tulsa was fourth with 20 points, Wichita State was fifth with 18 points, ECU was sixth with 11 points and Memphis was seventh with eight points. You can view the full poll below.

After five years in the AAC, UCF has finished third or better in four seasons.

Many around the country are expecting big things from the Knights in 2021, so it should come as no surprise that UCF is ranked in multiple national preseason polls. UCF checks in at No. 21 in the  USA Today/NFCA Top 25 Preseason Coaches' Poll, No. 22 in the D1 Softball preseason poll and No. 25 in the USA Softball/ESPN preseason rankings.

The NFCA/USA Today ranking marks the second highest UCF has ever received in the poll to begin the season as the Knights were ranked No. 17 headed into the 2016 campaign. UCF also received votes to begin the 2017 and 2015 seasons.

The Knights held their own against other ranked opponents last year as they had matchups with 12 schools either receiving votes or ranked, posting a 6-5-1 record against those opponents and a 9-4-1 record against non-conference Power6 opponents.

Before the conclusion of the 2020 season, UCF was ranked No. 7 in the NCAA RPI.

Capacity for The UCF Softball Complex this season is roughly twenty-five percent of full capacity. Ticket prices are as follows:

  • Adults: $7
  • Youth ages 2-17: $5
  • Groups (10+): $5

Fans will be required to wear face coverings at all times, except while actively eating or drinking. Other safety measures in place for the 2021 season include:

  • Hand sanitizer stations will be located throughout the concourse
  • Bathrooms and other common touch points will be cleaned and sanitized regularly
  • COVID-19 signage encouraging best practices will be located throughout the facility
  • Certain seating will be blocked off to encourage physical distancing

For the latest information on ticketing for 2021 UCF Softball home events, contact the ticket office at (407) 823-1000, or follow us on social at UCF Softball on Facebook (/UCFSoftball), Twitter (@UCF_Softball) and Instagram (@UCF.Softball).