When all was said and done at the end of the 2016 season, the University of Wisconsin softball team found themselves short of an NCAA tournament bid.

All hopes of a NCAA tournament appearance for the first time since 2014 ended when the Badgers suffered a 4-0 loss to the Indiana Hoosiers. But, considering the previous year when Wisconsin finished 21-31, their record of 28-24-1 served as a step in the right direction.

It does not get much easier for the women in cardinal and white as the page turns to the 2017 season. Wisconsin released their schedule in early January, which includes nine teams that reached the NCAA tournament last season and four teams that finished the season ranked in the AP top 25.

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The Badgers will open their season with a series of tournaments and invitationals, the first of five taking place in the Ramada Uni-Dome Classic, where they will take on the University of Northern Iowa. Wisconsin will compete in these tournaments and invitationals into late March, when they will begin Big Ten play facing the University of Northwestern Wildcats in a three-game series in Evansville.

The Badgers will then host the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers in a three-game series. Along with those two Big Ten foes, Wisconsin will square off against the Iowa Hawkeyes, Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Michigan Wolverines, Illinois Fighting Illini and Maryland Terrapins in pursuit of qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament. To accomplish this feat, Wisconsin must finish in the top 12 in the Big Ten.

Moving forward, the Badgers will be without their ace from last season, Taylor-Paige Stewart, after she finished her eligibility. Stewart posted a 17-12 record with a 2.64 ERA in 42 appearances. Losing Stewart also means losing the leader in strikeouts, of which Steward had 145.

The attention on the mound will now change gears to the returning pitchers, Kristen Stevens and Mariah Watts. Stevens turned in a 10-12 record with a 3.22 ERA in 38 appearances last year. Watts did not see the field as much as Stevens last season, however, only appearing in eight games and earning a 6.90 ERA.

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On the offensive side, Wisconsin welcomes back many contributors from the 2016 season. First-team All-Big Ten honoree Kelsey Jenkins will be returning as a junior. Starting in every game last season, Jenkins led the team in batting with a .409 average and tied slugger Chloe Miller for home runs. Miller, a second-team all-region recipient, also returns to the lineup, following a season during which she led the team in RBIs with 51 and a .355 average.

Starters Sara Novak, Samantha Arents and Melanie Cross — three players who, combined, average .268 at the plate — are also returning. The Badgers owned a plus-56 run differential in the 2016 season. Wisconsin should have no problem scoring runs this season, though pitching remains up for debate.

The season opener will take place next Friday on Feb. 10 against UNI in Cedar Falls, Iowa at 7 p.m. CT.