Groves returns home to rave reviews

Holly Groves, South Florida’s leading hitter with a .333 average, is glad to be a part of the Bulls instead of a Conference USA rival.

Groves, a sophomore right fielder, started her career with UAB in 1999. She left the Blazers after the 2000 season.

“That place just wasn’t for me,” Groves said. “I went up on a visit and I liked the coach, but I guess you have to see the coach when they actually play.”

When Groves first came out of Seminole high school, her visit to Alabama went well. USF coach Ken Eriksen realized her potential but did not follow through with bringing Groves to Tampa.

“The big thing on why we didn’t follow through on recruiting her is we weren’t really sure on her commitment to school and softball just through observance and this and that,” Eriksen said.

After discovering her discomfort with the team, and “not liking Birmingham because the people are mean,” Groves decided she wanted out of UAB.

After playing summer ball with many of the USF players, word got around to Eriksen that she was interested in leaving UAB.

” He already knew that I didn’t like it up there,” Groves said. “He just approached me and asked me how I was doing and I said it wasn’t working out, so he said to come here.”

After Groves got her release from UAB she attended St. Pete Junior College for a year and earned her associates of arts degree.

Her time at SPJC and the way she hit the books helped solidify her in the eyes of Eriksen.

“She matured quite a bit in the last couple of years,” Eriksen said. “Last year after being at St. Pete she really showed that she was going to buckle down on the books and do the things that she had to do.”

Now she is happier with her teammates and has a more mature attitude toward the game. She now can be seen coming from practice with a grass and clay-stained uniform because of the dives and slides she routinely makes.

“When I was at UAB, I was a freshman and immature,” Groves said. “Now I am mature and I understand the game a hell of a lot more, and I expect a lot more of myself – like outfield dives where before I would never have done that. I feel like I really have to prove something to (the team) and Ken because I want to do good.”She has proven a lot to Eriksen already.

“She has always been a very good hitter and as an outfielder she had a lot to learn, and this year she has been probably our most improved ballplayer,” Eriksen said. “Since day one in fall practice she is our most improved defensive player and offensively we knew exactly what she was going to do, and we’re glad that she has done it.”

Throughout her time at USF she has proven a lot to the team and has become a leader in Eriksen’s eyes with her attitude and hunger to never lose.

He claims the turnaround of the team is because of Groves’s leadership.

“I think with a person like Holly, once she gets some instruction and sees the positive influences around her, she is going to really buy into it,” Eriksen said. “She has become a huge leader for us, and that I didn’t expect.”

The big part of her attitude is her hatred of losing and the way she approaches each game with the fear of losing.

‘”She is a very hard-nosed player. She loves to compete and she hates to lose before the game starts, and that’s the key,” Eriksen said. “You either love to win or you hate to lose, and Holly hates to lose.”

Her best friend and roommate, pitcher Gail Callinan, knows her the best and always looks at Groves as someone who will bring some attitude and liveliness.

“She brings good attitude to us and bad attitude to the other team,” Callinan said. “She is a great player, she is aggressive.”Groves and Callinan have formed the duo that keeps the team light and eases them in pressure situations.

“Her humor is tremendous, and with her and Gail there is a lot of levity in the crucial situations during the week of practices and this and that,” Eriksen said. “Holly is right there with not taking it too seriously or not getting out of it. She is just a nice person and you can’t teach that.”

With Groves keeping the team at ease during pressure moments, she might need the team to help keep her loose during her own pressure-packed game. USF hosts UAB April 13 in what Groves says will be a stressful game.

“I just want to win,” Groves said. “I don’t care what I do as long as we win.”

Lately Groves and the Bulls have been doing a lot of winning, including Groves capturing the conference Hitter of the Week and the Bulls winning 12 of their last 13 games. Eriksen and the Bulls are glad that they decided to free Groves of Birmingham and bring her to USF.

“If there is one kid in this area that we probably missed the boat on in not really following through on, her name is Holly,” Eriksen said. “We got fortunate enough that we were still interested in her and she was still interested in us and it worked out. It has been a good marriage.”

  • Bryan Fazio covers softball and can be reached at