Coach Ken Eriksen is smiling again, thanks to a little bit of well-deserved rest and relaxation.
For the past six years, Eriksen has been pulling double duty as coach of the USF softball team and as an assistant coach of the USA Softball women’s national championship squad. Although both teams enjoyed reasonable success, Eriksen didn’t enjoy how much time the USA Softball team demanded.
“Having to get on an airplane every three days, it wears on you,” Eriksen said. “People asked me, ‘Did you have fun during that time?’ I really didn’t have fun until I was on the airplane on the way home.”
Red-eye flights were regular for Eriksen, whose USA Softball duties ranged from scouting to coaching. At the conclusion of the Bulls’ 2004-05 season, Eriksen flew to Canada, Australia, Spain, Japan and Oklahoma City – all in one month.
Eriksen went through six years as an assistant, including three and a half as a pitching coach, and helped the USA Softball team win a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics. USA Softball coaches do not receive gold medals, but that wasn’t what was missing for the 45-year-old coach.
“I was pretty burnt out, and I wasn’t feeling very good,” Eriksen said. “I was battling some post-Olympics stress.”
On one of his many flights home, Eriksen diagnosed the cause of his stress.
“I have a 5-year-old and a 9-year-old. For six years it was tough because you’re missing the firsts,” Eriksen said. “(The) first day of school, first day of Little League, the first things. Time flies, and you realize you don’t want to miss those things.”
Eriksen then decided to take his first vacation in 14 years: a five-day sabbatical during the Christmas holidays.
Now the veteran coach is back and well rested, and nobody is happier than Eriksen – except maybe his players.
“It’s great having him back,” senior pitcher Nicole Christensen said. “It definitely helps as a pitcher. Obviously he’s a great pitching coach from working with the USA (Softball) team.”
Besides more one-on-one time with his pitchers, the team is getting to experience some of Eriksen’s regained exuberance.
“His personality and his character adds to the team,” said assistant coach Stacey Heintz, who covered for Eriksen when he had to take time off for the USA Softball team. “He’s a large part of why some of these girls came here.
“It’s great to have Ken back full time. Plus the girls just enjoy having him out here.”
The system Eriksen established when he began coaching the Bulls is still in place, and it allowed Heintz to seamlessly step in when Eriksen was out. But even though they share the same philosophy, Heintz and Eriksen have varying coaching styles.
“They’re just totally different,” senior shortstop Christie Chapman said. “She’s very intense, but it’s like a quiet intensity. He gets more, like, verbally pumped up.”
Senior Samantha Ray echoed Chapman’s sentiment.
“She’s the calm before the storm, and he’s the storm,” Ray said.
Eriksen has certainly made an impact on his team, but the benefits of his return are still in question. As far as Eriksen is concerned, they’ve already taken place.
“It’s been a pleasure to be home,” Eriksen said with a smile.