NEW YORK — Columbia softball head coach Jennifer Teague announced the team’s 2018 schedule on Wednesday. The 43-game slate includes 14 games at the Columbia Softball Stadium, with the home opener scheduled for Saturday, March 24, against Yale.

The biggest change to the 2018 season is the new format of Ivy League play. The two-division system has been eliminated and all eight Ivy League teams will play a three-game weekend series against one another. In years past, teams would play four games against division opponents two games against non-division opponents. The 2018 Ivy League Championship Series will be contested between the teams that finish first and second in the standings. The regular season champion will host the series, scheduled for the weekend of May 12-13.

“I think the schedule change will even the playing field,” stated Teague, who enters her fourth season at Columbia. “At the end of the season, we’ll get a true No. 1 and No. 2 that will play each other. Before, it was the winner of each division, and the top two teams in the league were not always guaranteed to be the two teams playing in the championship series.”

The Ivy League season begins the weekend of March 17-18 with a three-game series at Penn. All seven Ivy League weekends will consist of a doubleheader on Saturday beginning at 12:30 p.m., followed by the final game of the series on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

“I like that we are playing every team three times now,” Teague went on to say. “Those four-game series with teams in your division just became a slugfest by the end. It’s hard to beat a team three times, let alone four, and this new format will show us who truly has a pitching staff.”

Columbia’s home opener comes the following weekend, March 24-25, with a three-game series against Yale. The Lions went 10-4 (.714) last season at the Columbia Softball Stadium, tying the program’s single-season record for home winning percentage (15-6 in 2014). Columbia will also host Ivy League series against Harvard (April 7-8) and Princeton (April 21-22).

“Princeton has won the league each of the past two years and we’ve proven we can play with them,” Teague added. “However, we have to show up for all of our Ivy League games – they all matter. The third game in these new three-game series are especially important. We have to make sure we take care of those games to put us in a good position.”

The change to the Ivy League schedule also means non-conference contests during the middle of the week will be single games instead of doubleheaders. The Lions will host Wednesday games for five consecutive weeks, welcoming Fairfield (March 28), St. Peter’s (April 4), Manhattan (April 11), Monmouth (April 18) and Rider (April 25) to Columbia Softball Stadium.

The Lions are coming off of a 2017 campaign that included the program’s first 5-0 start to Ivy League play. Columbia won 20 games for the first time since 2014 and came up one Ivy League win shy of the program record on nine from that same season.

Last season was also a record-setting one on the offensive side. Columbia set new team records in home runs (37), RBIs (184), runs (205) and total bases (539). Madison Gott, now a senior, and Sommer Grzybek, a sophomore, each hit 10 home runs to tie the single-season record. Gott also broke the program’s single-season marks in batting average (.381), RBIs (40), hits (59) and total bases (102). Grzybek slugged .690 to break the program mark in just her first season, and went on to be selected Second Team All-Ivy League.

The 2018 season begins February 23-25 at the challenging FAU Invitational in Boca Raton, Florida. The Lions will face four teams that all posted winning records last season, including three that advanced to the NCAA Softball Regionals. The season opener comes against Texas State, a team that went 42-17 last season to earn a No. 2 seed in the College Station Regional. Columbia rounds out the first day against host Florida Atlantic, before taking on Tulsa and Illinois Chicago in a Saturday doubleheader. Tulsa also won 40 games last season and nearly knocked off eventual national champion Oklahoma in the championship series of the Norman Regional. Illinois Chicago won the 2017 Horizon League title to earn a spot in the Eugene Regional. The Lions conclude the tournament that Sunday with a second game against Texas State.

“We’re going to start out with a bang at FAU,” said Teague. “All of those teams had amazing seasons last year. It will be a competitive weekend to start things out.”

The Lions last opened the season in Boca Raton in 2016, where they earned two victories over Maryland.

A trip to the nation’s capital to compete in the District Invite is on tap for March 2-4. The Lions will take on UMBC, Virginia, Georgetown, Iona and Howard. The tournament will also serve as a chance for two Lions to compete against their siblings – Madison Gott’s sister, Olivia, is a junior on the Virginia softball team and sophomore Erin Gallo’s sister, Deirdre, is an incoming freshman at Georgetown.

“I’m happy we were able to get Virginia and Georgetown on the schedule for Maddie and Erin,” Teague stated. “I expect those games to be tough. Whenever you’re playing teams from the ACC and Big East, it’s going to be tough. Iona won the MAAC regular season and is also going to be a challenge.”

Columbia’s Spring Break trip is cut short this year due to the new Ivy League schedule. The Lions head out to California to compete in a tournament hosted by UC Riverside the weekend of March 10-11. There, the Lions will meet up with Boise State, UC Riverside, North Dakota State and Colgate. NDSU won the 2017 Summit League Tournament and even earned a win over Oklahoma in the Norman Regional, Midweek games at Cal State Fullerton and Loyola Marymount follow on the 13th and 14th before the team flies back to New York to prepare for the league slate.

“Our schedule doesn’t get any easier in California,” the head coach concluded. “The challenge is to progress and get better. I don’t see any easy games in the preseason, but this team is mature enough to handle it.”