Softball coach Ken Eriksen isn’t shy about voicing his disappointment that the Bulls weren’t selected to participate in last year’s NCAA Tournament. This year, he hopes to build a strong enough resume that the committee has no choice but to invite USF.
The Bulls compiled a 33-21 record last season, leading the Big East for a portion late in the season, but were left on the outside after an early exit from the conference tournament, something Eriksen is determined will not happen again.
“I thought we got hammered by the NCAA committee last year and I don’t mind saying that because we had beaten some teams and our rankings were pretty high,” he said. “We can’t leave it in the committee’s hands. You have to take care of business early on the ball field. Last year, what caught up to us was our lack of depth.”
Depth is not a concern for the Bulls on the eve of this season, with high-profile transfers arriving to give Eriksen flexibility with his lineups.
The arrival of Jessica Mouse, a senior from LSU, will allow Kourtney Salvarola to move back to her natural shortstop position, after being forced to play third base for most of last season. Janine Richardson, who played out of position at shortstop while Salvarola was at third, can return to her natural position of center field for her senior season.
Laura Fountain (catcher), Stephanie Medina (first base) and Alexis Nowell (second base) will fill out the rest of the infield Friday, while Gina Kafalas (right field) and Ashli Goff (left field) will bookend Richardson in center field. Kenshyra Jackson, from Polk State Community College, will open the season as the designated player.
Eriksen also has impact players on the bench in Courtney Goff, D’Anna Devine and Stormi Grzybek.
“As much as I tell you I’m sleeping well at night because of the depth we have and the pitching we have, I’m also struggling to sleep at night because I’ve got a lineup where there’s three or four people capable of being in any starting lineup in the country that are not going to be (in the starting lineup) for our first game,” Eriksen said.
USF will again have one of the strongest pitching rotations in the conference with freshman Sam Greiner joining veterans Lindsey Richardson, Sara Nevins and Brittany Bowles. Nevins was a first-team All-Big East selection after a freshman season that saw her lead the nation in saves (eight) and team in strikeouts (193). Lindsey Richardson led the team in wins as a sophomore with 10.
Greiner, from Sparta, N.J., was the New Jersey Herald Player of the Year after posting a 0.27 ERA as a senior.
Eriksen has not named a starting pitcher for opening day.
With six seniors on the roster, Eriksen also said the leadership on this year’s squad is the best he’s had in years.
Nowell said she and the seniors have risen into leadership positions.
“I think we’ve all just stepped up,” she said. “We’ve learned from past seasons and learned from our mistakes. We’ve learned from our other leaders who led in the past.”
With improved depth, pitching and leadership, Eriksen said he thinks the Bulls need to win 40 games this year to make the NCAA Tournament.
“I think the committee looks at the number 40 pretty significantly,” he said. “If we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing – and that’s winning every ball game – then 40 is going to be easy.”
SOFTBALL GAME TIMES
What: USF Softball opening weekend
When: Friday vs. Maine 1:45 p.m.
vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 4 p.m.
Saturday vs. Long Island, 1:45 p.m.
vs. Illinois State, 4 p.m.
Sunday vs. Florida, 1 p.m.
Where: USF Softball Stadium