Softball to take on Olympians

One month after kicking off the 2008 season next spring, the USF softball team will get the chance to face some gold medal-caliber competition.

On March 6-9, the Bulls will travel to the EC Moore Complex in Clearwater to host the 2008 USA Softball Women’s National Team’s “Bound 4 Beijing” Tour.

USF will play Team USA on March 8, 2008 at 6:30 p.m. Along with the Bulls, the Women’s National Team will face Baylor, Coastal Carolina, Missouri, Hofstra and NC State during their stay in Clearwater.

The USF Under Armour Invitational Tournament is one of 42 stops across the country for the USA Women’s National Team, which will compete in more than 60 games leading up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“It’s pretty exciting,” USF coach Ken Eriksen. “Anytime you get to host an Olympic team – or a national team – going to the Olympics, it says a lot about your program. It’s a great thrill for our area and we’re very fortunate that they’re coming in.”

The meeting between USF and the Women’s National Team has extra significance for Eriksen, who has been involved with the Olympic team as a pitching coach since 2001.

“I still work with a lot of those kids and I’m still involved with the program,” Eriksen said. “It’ll be like coaching against your family. I’m looking forward to it and we’ve got a couple tricks up our sleeves because I’m kind of familiar with their hitters.”

Eriksen – who is now on a self-described “permanent leave of absence” from the Olympic team to spend more time with his family – was coaching Team USA when he last faced the Bulls.

“In 2004, Leanne Ellis pitched a great game against them and the team played extremely well,” Eriksen said. “I was

actually coaching the other team at the time, so for me to stand at the first base box and watch USF play the Olympic team was a thrill.”

In 2004, the Bulls were the only college team to shut out Team USA for six innings. According to Eriksen, this year’s National Team should expect a similar challenge from USF.

“We played a great, great game (in 2004), and hopefully the U.S. team understands that we’re going to give them some good competition and get them prepared for Beijing,” Eriksen said.

While Eriksen knows that the game will provide his team with an exciting chance to compete against some of the best players America has to offer, the coach isn’t going to be satisfied with simply being on the same field with the defending three-time gold medal winners.

“We’re not going in there just to play against the Olympic team,” Eriksen said. “This is not coach-speak or rhetoric at all, but I’m not going to take the field without thinking we have the ability to win. We have to play flawless softball, and hopefully we can make the future Olympians make some mistakes and take advantage of them.”