After 41 wins, a super regional appearance and an off-season of turmoil, softball season opens today for Ole Miss.
The No. 21-ranked Rebels begin play at noon against Louisville in Clearwater, Florida.
Ole Miss will play N.C. State at 5 p.m. and will eventually play five games in three days in the neutral-site event which also includes Illinois, Notre Dame and Liberty.
The Rebels will be without one of their top players in senior outfielder Kaylee Horton who left the program unexpectedly earlier this week.
Horton is the first player to leave the program since the resignation of former coach Mike Smith in December.
“We want what’s best for our kids, and Kaylee wanted to get away from softball,” interim coach Ruben Felix said. “She was a big part of our success for three years. At this moment in time she just felt like softball wasn’t in her heart to stay here. She decided she wasn’t going to play anymore, and we’re good with that.
“She’s good people, good family.”
The Rebels must replace center fielder Kylan Becker, a senior All-American last year.
Ole Miss has six other returning outfielders and adds three freshmen, one of them Nyomi Jones who was ranked the No. 32 overall player by Flosoftball.com.
Horton, a Jasper, Alabama, native, hit .289 last season with 28 RBIs and 23 stolen bases.
She helped make the Rebels a “legitimate top-15 program,” Felix said. “We’ll move on. It gives other people opportunities.”
Ole Miss has two more out-of-town weekend classics before its Oxford opener, Feb. 26 against North Alabama.
Mississippi State’s women, who went 35-23 last season and won two NCAA regional games, also open its season today in Clearwater.
Today, the Bulldogs will have games against Missouri State and the U.S. National Team, then games on Saturday with Liberty, Louisville and N.C. State.
MSU will open its home schedule on Wednesday against Alabama State.