As the USF softball team jumped back into the national rankings this week at No. 24 in both the ESPN/USA Softball and NFCA polls, the team took a short break to rest and collect some accolades ahead of a Big East showdown at third place DePaul this weekend.
After a three-game sweep of the Providence Friars last weekend, the team attended the “Stampede of Champions” award banquet at the Sun Dome on Sunday evening, where they took home five awards.
Junior pitcher Sara Nevins won USF “Female Athlete of the Year,” junior first baseman Stephanie Medina won the award for USF “Female Scholar Athlete,” KenEriksen won USF “Coach of the Year,” and the team collected awards for “Team of the Year” for their 2012 Women’s College World Series appearance and the “Team Sportsmanship Award.”
The Bulls didn’t practice on Monday or Tuesday and have six days between their last game on April 14 until their next game on Saturday against DePaul.
The rest couldn’t have come at a better time, Eriksen said.
“Right before finals is the toughest point of the season for women’s softball,” he said. “They know there’s not a million dollar contract or a draft waiting for them when they graduate, and so the academics are crucial. To give them two days off where they can catch up on studying, it’s great.”
Eriksen said the team hasn’t had two consecutive days off since mid-February because of games in the middle of the week and on weekends.
“When you’re riding that thoroughbred horse you have to know when to give it a little giddy-up and when to ease back on the reigns and let the horse run by itself,” he said. “I like this horse that’s running on the back stretch right now, by no stretch of the imagination is it going to be an easy finish, but I like where we’re at.”
Senior third baseman Kenshyra Jackson said she didn’t mind having two days off, but still found a way to stay busy.
“I did a little workout yesterday anyway,” she said. “As a team the break was good for us, but we know we have to get back to work at practice now.”
The first-place Bulls (35-12, 13-1) face off with DePaul in a doubleheader on Saturday before the series finale on Sunday.
The Blue Demons (23-14) had a rough start to the season but now have a 10-1 record in the Big East and are tied for third with Notre Dame.
“It’s conference play. They know us, we know them. There’s no surprise,” Eriksen said, “We’ve had a target on our back this year and we know that. Since going to the World Series, everybody wants to play us as their own World Series, so that presents challenges. Challenges are opportunities that we have to take advantage of.”
The Blue Demons have the best conference record of any team on the Bulls’ conference schedule this season, and the Bulls are 2-11 against DePaul in the last five seasons.