Trips to Tennessee, Texas A&M and Tulane – along with the first official meeting against Little Rock in more than 30 years and an expanded Southland Conference slate – highlight the 2019-20 Central Arkansas women’s basketball schedule announced Thursday by coach Sandra Rushing.

“I love our schedule – it’s a challenging schedule right out of the gate and that’s exactly what we need to prepare us to make a run at the Southland championship,” said Rushing, who enters her eighth season leading the Sugar Bears and 31st overall. “We get to face some of elite programs in the country led by some of the best coaches in the game, we get four in-state schools, and we have a nice mix of home and road games which is crucial for us having eight new players.

“The non-conference schedule is going to get us ready for the conference grind, which is going to be even longer this year. We’ve got a great new group that’s hard at work already, and we’re excited to see where we can take it this season.”

The Sugar Bears jump right into the fire for their opener, beginning the season with their third trip to Knoxville in the last five years to take on the eighth-time national champion Lady Vols on Nov. 7 in their first game under new coach Kellie Harper.

After the home opener against crosstown foe Hendrix on Nov. 12, the Sugar Bears make the short trip over to Little Rock to meet up with the Trojans for the first time as Division I programs on Nov. 16 as part of the Governor’s I-40 Showdown.

Six days later, they travel to Tulane, which has 11 NCAA Tournaments, seven WNIT appearances and 15 20-win seasons in 25 years under coach Lisa Stockton.

“We’re going to be tested a lot early on,” Rushing said. “It’s going to be difficult. You’ve got maybe the most storied program out there in Tennessee. Coach Foley does an incredible job at Little Rock and they’re always loaded. And coach Stockton has been winning big at Tulane for as far back as I can remember and that’s another great challenge for us.

“But these are the types of games our girls need to play in, the competition level they need to face to see what it takes to get where we’re trying to be.”

After a Nov. 25 trip to Northern Kentucky – which won a pair of national titles, made five Final Fours and 21 NCAA Tournament appearances in Division II before moving to Division I in 2012 – the Sugar Bears return home on the 30th to host Jackson State in the Farris Center.

In the final road game of the non-conference schedule, which in all features teams that have combined for 75 NCAA Tournament appearances, 42 Sweet 16s, 19 Final Fours and nine National Championships in Division I, the Sugar Bears head to College Station for the fourth straight season to take on Texas A&M on Dec. 4.

Back-to-back home games against Crowley’s Ridge and Central Baptist on Dec. 7 and 15 wrap up the nine-game non-conference lineup.

“We’re very familiar with Texas A&M and coach Blair and know the kind of team they’ll put on the floor and that will be a great experience for us,” Rushing said. “And I really like coming home for the last two before hitting the road for conference. I think that’s going to give us a chance to work on some things and really figure out where we’re at as we start that conference run, and give us a couple weeks at home to get rested up before that first big road swing.”

Southland play begins early this year, with the Sugar Bears opening with a trip to Incarnate Word and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Dec. 18 and 21 to tip off a newly-expanded 20-game conference schedule, up from 18 in previous years.

“We get into conference a little earlier this year, and with the longer schedule it’s going to be more of a grind to see who’s going to be champion,” Rushing said. “We know we want it to be us, and we’re already hard at it, working to get there. Can’t wait to get going.”

Season ticket renewals begin Aug. 5, with season ticket sales open to the general public on Sept. 30.