The South Florida softball team should have no shortage of momentum heading into the season.
The Bulls won their first Big East regular season championship last season, posting a 44-20 (16-4) record, and made the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years USF alumnus Ken Eriksen, who has coached the team for more than 12 years, leads the team. Eriksen holds a 508-260-1 record at USF.
The Bulls return a veteran group that includes four seniors and 11 juniors. South Florida lost only five players from last year’s squad.
Sophomore Capri Catalano led the Bulls last year with a 17-1 record and a 1.80 earned run average on the mound. The Bulls have two more players with potential — seniors Cristi Ecks and Bree Spence. Spence is coming off a redshirt year and Ecks went 7-3 with a 1.54 ERA last year before a heart condition cut her season short.
The Bulls will be led by junior first basemen JoJo Medina and senior shortstop Britta Giddens. Medina batted .309 last year while leading the team with eight home runs and 36 RBI. Giddens hit .331 with six home runs and 33 RBI.
If USF looks to carry on success from last year, it’ll be up against a tough schedule.
The Bulls will play three teams that appeared in the Women’s College World Series last year. USF will host perennial powerhouse University of Arizona on Valentine’s Day weekend in the USF Wilson Tournament. Arizona has won two of the past three national championships.
Two weeks later, the Bulls will travel to Gainesville to take on the University of Florida in the Cox Communications Invitational, and then play Virginia Tech University in the Under Armour Invitational in Clearwater.
A tough non-conference schedule should make for good experience as the Bulls try to defend their Big East regular season championship from last year.
— Will McLaughlin
Led by third-year coach Lelo Prado, USF is coming off back-to-back 30-win seasons. Last year’s squad featured just 12 upperclassmen on a roster of 40, but the Bulls still managed a 31-28 overall record.
The team is even younger this year, with only 10 upper classmen, and only four of those seniors.
South Florida took a hit in the summer with the de-commitment of highly touted recruit Adrian Nieto. Nieto, a catcher, committed to the Bulls in May, right before being taken in the fifth round ofthe Major League Baseball draft by the Washington Nationals, and he eventually decided to join the professional ranks.
Not all is lost for USF, however, as the team returns two freshmen all-Americans in sophomore outfielders Stephen Hunt and Ryan Lockwood.
The Bulls should get a good measuring stick as to what kind of team they have early in the season with their non-conference schedule.
USF will open with games against the University of Michigan, Purdue University and the University of Indiana as part of the inaugural Big East/Big Ten Baseball Challenge, which will feature 27 games from Feb. 20-22 at various venues throughout the Tampa Bay area.
Following the Big East/Big Ten Challenge, USF will host an exhibition match against the Netherlands National Team on Feb. 24.
After those games, South Florida will try and contend in a Big East conference that’s had only one team qualify for the NCAA College World Series in the past five years
— Phil Neary
With only four players returning from last year, the South Florida men’s tennis team will have an abundance of youth as it prepares to challenge again for a Big East championship.
Mahmoud Hamed, the team’s only senior, will lead a squad with five new players. Returning players Jamal Adderley, Thomas Estrada and Lucas Jovita will be relied upon for the experience they bring. Hamed, a native of Cairo, Egypt, had a 15-15 record in 2008 while suffering through a lingering back injury last season. Hamed is expected to have no more complications with the injury this year.
Coach Don Barr is in 16th season as head coach. In that time, he’s accumulated 221 victories.
Last year, the Bulls finished second in the Big East with a 14-7 overall record and a 4-1 conference record.
Much is expected from sophomore Jovita, who made it to the semifinals of the main draw and consolation draw in the All-American Championships last fall. He finished with a 13-5 record, the best among the Bulls.
Barr said he’s looking for success in his “two experienced freshmen,” Wael Kilani and Romain Deridder. Kilani has played at Wimbledon and the US Open. While Deridder is ranked fourth nationally in his home country of France.
The team will face tough competition including Memphis, Florida A&M and Illinois, followed by matches against Texas and TCU.
A mix of youthful experience and seasoned talent will try to contend in the Big East conference after a 14-7 finish and a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2008.
— Kelli Polson