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For the first time in a long time, Huskers' softball team setting foot on infield dirt ahead of unusual schedule

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Nebraska Softball 4.2

Nebraska's Tristen Edwards is greeted by coach Rhonda Revelle as Edwards rounds third base on one of her two home runs against South Dakota State on April 2, 2019, at Bowlin Stadium.

Ask a college softball player or coach in this part of the country if they've gotten outside for preseason practice, and prepare for the chuckles.

Walking to and from the car before and after practice is as close as it has gotten for the Husker softball team, coach Rhonda Revelle will tell you.

You might recall last week's rare deep freeze?

But practicing indoors ahead of the first games is the norm for Nebraska and other Northern schools. In fact, there are years where the Huskers haven't touched infield dirt until arriving for the season-opening tournament somewhere in Florida or California.

It can put a team at a bit of a disadvantage when taking the field against Southern schools that have the luxury of practicing outside in January and February.

But because of COVID-19, Nebraska and the other 13 Big Ten schools are not playing nonconference teams. A 44-game league-only schedule begins Friday in Leesburg, Florida, where the Huskers take on Indiana, and like NU, the Hoosiers have been limited on outdoor practice time.

What Big Ten team hasn't?

For the first time, it's an even playing field.

"I don't think we're thinking about (that) we haven't been outside yet, because probably a lot of other teams that we're going to be facing are in the same boat," Revelle said this week. "Really, our philosophy is, who is doing it better? Who's doing indoors better?"

The Huskers were scheduled to practice outdoors for the first time Thursday at the game facility in Florida. They'll play Indiana twice on Friday, Michigan State twice on Saturday and Ohio State twice on Sunday.

They'll return to Florida in two weeks for games against Michigan and Purdue before the Big Ten schedule goes to home sites the rest of the way.

It will be a challenge, for sure, Revelle said. The Huskers have eight freshmen, including four or five expected to start immediately, and it's always good to use the nonconference portion of the schedule to get their feet under them.

Instead, they'll be adjusting on the Big Ten fly.

"It's like 'game on' right out the gate," Revelle said. "I also think the benefit of it is every game means something right from the get-go, so your sense of urgency, your sense of focus and your sense of prioritization is at a very high point."

The Huskers and the college softball landscape hit a low point last March when the COVID-19 pandemic halted everything. Nebraska was 9-14.

With a lot of young players, a lost spring season could have stunted the growth of a program trying to rebuild. But Revelle saw the opposite effect.

"I actually think it sprung us forward," said Revelle, who is beginning her 29th season at NU. "And the reason I say that is everybody else was shut down, too, and so you look at this period and (it's) what have you done in that period of time?

"Our group has been very diligent about what we've done with our time from last March on."

A lot of it was production on Zoom sessions. The Huskers got a fall season in, but did not play against any opponents. Friday's 9 a.m. opener against Indiana will mark the Huskers' first game in 355 days and their first Big Ten contest in 659 days.

It goes without saying, the 22 Huskers on the roster are ready to take in the Florida sun and play some real games.

"We've just been ready and waiting, especially seeing the other conferences starting to play nonconference," said outfielder Tristen Edwards, who took advantage of the extra year granted by the NCAA and is returning for a second senior season. "Seeing other people out on the field has (us) so excited. We honestly cannot wait."

Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.

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