It’s been just three days since the USF softball team was eliminated by No. 1 UCLA in the Super Regional round of the NCAA Tournament, ending the Bulls’ hopes for an inaugural Women’s College World Series appearance.
However, despite the pain a team inevitably feels after a loss of such magnitude, the Bulls have wasted no time in looking at their season from a positive perspective and preparing for another playoff run next year.
“I think it’s important to build upon what happened this past year and also look at the UCLA series as kind of a little icing on top of the cake,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “Albeit, the cake would have tasted a lot better if we were at the College World Series, but I think its very important for our returning players to take something from this year and build upon it.”
The returning players have a lot they can take from this season.
The softball team posted a record of 50-25 and went 17-3 in the Big East en route to making its fourth consecutive appearance in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament. After going undefeated in regionals, the Bulls received the 16th seed in the Super Regional round and traveled to California to face UCLA, the holder of a record 11 NCAA softball titles.
“I was definitely expecting us to come out and play hard,” freshman Britta Giddens said. “I mean, it’s UCLA, you know? So of course we were the underdogs, but we were ready to take them down.”
Despite being forced to play the Bruins on their home field, the Bulls were not lacking in confidence and showed as much during the series. UCLA, which outscored its regional round opponents 23-2 in three games, was held to just five runs in its two games against USF. In the end, the Bruins secured the two-game sweep with close victories of 2-0 and 3-1, respectively.
While the Bulls were disappointed with their season-ending losses, the team enjoyed the excitement of the postseason and its returning players are looking forward to the chance to do it all again next year.
“It was an awesome experience,” freshman Cristi Ecks said. “We played great against a team that’s No. 1 in the nation and I hope that we get there again next year.”
The returning players also know they will have to work even harder if they hope to reach the postseason for a fifth consecutive year. The Bulls are losing six players to graduation, including all four of this season’s captains.
“Even though we’re losing (the seniors), it doesn’t mean we’re done,” Ecks said. “We have a lot of expectations for the underclassmen next year and we know they’re going to step their game up so we can make it as far as we did this year again.”
As the Bulls prepare for next season, they should have plenty of things to take from this year. After advancing past the first round of the postseason for the first time in USF history, the Bulls were pitted against the nation’s top team on its home field and held their own.
For a team that wants to build confidence for an upcoming season, it doesn’t get much better than that.
“I can’t wait (for next season). I’m ready to take the field again,” Giddens said. “I’m upset that it’s over because I really think that we could have beaten them. There’s no doubt in my mind that we could have.”