With fresh legs after a week off, the Wisconsin softball team will hit the road again to warmer weather against two teams that finished above them.

This time, the Badgers (4-1) travel to Orlando, Fla., where they will take part in the Diamond 9 tournament, playing against Georgia Southern (6-3) and Boston University (0-0).

The structure of the tournament is similar to the style of play UW experiences in the Big Ten. During the weekend, the team will face each of their opponents three times, playing each once over several days. During conference play, the Badgers compete under the same three game series format.

“It’s really going to feel like Big Ten play,” Wisconsin head coach Yvette Healy said. “Seeing a team three times a lot of people say ‘it’s not fun for the fans,’ but for us it’s going to be a real test of strategy.”

Wisconsin faced Georgia Southern in nonconference play last season and will once again have to face standout ace Sarah Purvis on the mound. Purvis, a junior from Warner Robins, Ga., is the reigning Southern Conference Pitcher of the Year after recording a 1.56 ERA and going 23-11 in 2012, becoming the first 20-game winner in Georgia Southern history.

But the Badgers are used to facing great pitching already in 2013, as the team is fresh off of facing one of softball’s best in Notre Dame’s Laura Winter, whom the team defeated twice.

“Coming off two wins from Notre Dame, it put an emphasis on how our season is going to be,” junior infielder Michelle Mueller said. “We’re going to have to battle, we’ll be behind in some games, but overall our team’s tenacity to just battle back is amazing.”

“I mean [Notre Dame] was No. 26 in the country and those wins for us are big,” junior outfielder Mary Massei said. “It just pumped up our team even more to know that we can do this and can attack even better teams.”

Wisconsin will throw out against Purvis and the offense led by the mighty bat of Massei, batting .474 after three games and already amassing three home runs after recording just four in 2012.

New faces are getting it done as well for UW with the bats. Freshmen Steffani LaJeunesse and Katie Christner combined for 10 hits and five runs scored during the Badgers’ first tournament.

Healy had especially strong praise for Christner, who hit a home run against Notre Dame to tie the game at 2-2 in the eight inning of an 11-inning thriller Wisconsin managed to win.

The head coach sees the performance of Christner as emblematic of her team’s hunger this season to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in several years.

“From how they approach the game, I think they are a tenacious group,” Healy said. “Every year we really focus in on that and stress ‘keep fighting, keep battling.’ The person hitting the home run is a freshman this year, so Katie Christner puts it into extra innings, that’s a big deal.”

Boston University, which hasn’t played a game so far this season, enters the season as the favorite once again to win their conference, the America East. Last season, Boston went 41-16 and returns 12 letter winners from their NCAA tournament team in 2012.

The Terriers are also paced by solid pitching, with junior arm Holli Floetker returning to lead the pitching after posting a 19-4 record in 2012 and a 1.54 ERA. BU’s No. 2 option on the mound isn’t too shabby either, with senior Whitney Tuthill returning after recording a 15-6 record and 1.77 ERA for the team a year ago.

It will once again be another solid test for a Wisconsin team that returns all but one starter from a 2012 team that smashed several program records for offense, including team batting average.

The biggest difference now for the Badgers is the fact that they’re no longer a young, upset-minded team. 2013 has seen UW turn to a favorite to compete for the B1G title, especially with the group’s core players being almost entirely composed of upperclassmen.

With a group of upperclassmen, like Mueller, who have been under Healy for two years, it has made the learning curve easier for the underclassmen and the expectations that much more clear that it’s a “win every game” mentality, even in the nonconference portion of the schedule.

“We compete together,” assistant coach Randy Schneider said. “That’s a big thing that I think is different from when we first got here. It’s moving in the right direction. Our upperclassmen are doing a good job, working hard and are well-liked.” 

With fresh legs after a week off, the Wisconsin softball team will hit the road again to warmer weather against two teams that finished above them.