One doubleheader sits between Ashland University softball and its 12th straight trip to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament, set to take place in Findlay, Ohio, from May 5-7.
Friday's (April 26) games against Ohio Dominican (26-20 overall, 13-7 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) won't determine whether or not the Eagles make the tournament, but they hold a much larger meaning, as head coach Sheilah Gulas will lead Ashland into Brookside Park one last time.
"Brookside is a special place," Gulas said. "There have been a lot of memories and a lot of great games there.
"It will be exciting, but a field is a field. It's the memories that you take with you and the special moments. I still remember winning the regional and conference tournaments there. So when I walk off the field, I'll be thinking about the people and the experiences."
The Eagles (27-20, 12-8) are in sixth place in the conference, but they are within one game of second-place Saginaw Valley (27-12, 12-6) and two games ahead of eighth-place Northwood (19-23, 10-10).
"I think when the dust settles," Gulas said, "there could be some interesting things that happen. This year, I don't think it matters who we play. Everyone has proven that they can win, and it's going to be the team that's hottest headed into the GLIAC Tournament weekend."
Ashland began its season 7-10 against non-conference competition during trips to Chicago and Florida. Since then, the Eagles are 20-10 and have gone without being swept in a GLIAC doubleheader for the first time since 2000.
"We're a totally different lineup than how we started the season," Gulas said. "I feel we still haven't reached our potential. There are years where you can't wait for the conference tournament because you've reached your peak. This year, I feel that we're still getting better every game."
Gulas entered her 21st season at Ashland with five regular-season GLIAC titles under her belt, winning one in 2002 and the rest consecutively from 1996-99. And since the GLIAC Tournament began in 2000, the Eagles won one in 2002. Last season, AU reached the GLIAC finals before falling to Wayne State.
"We've got a lot of players that remember that run," Gulas said. "But we have a lot of new players that don't know what it's like to play in the conference tournament, and sometimes that's a good thing."