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Softball season starts today

Last season the USF softball team went 44-22 and finished second in the Big East Conference. However, the team failed to make the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2002.

Today, the Bulls begin the 2008 season – and their journey back to the NCAA Tournament – by hosting the USF Wilson Tournament. All games will be played at the USF Softball Complex.

The Bulls are returning 17 players from last season. With so many experienced players returning to the squad, USF coach Ken Erikson is ready for his team to make a deep postseason run.

“We’ve got a lot of talent, and we’ve got a lot of diversity,” Erikson said. “We’ve got good speed and power. We’ve got pitching. If we stay healthy and we get some good bounces, it could be a very, very successful and interesting year.”

The Bulls will kick off their season with matchups against Illinois and Memphis, and the most anticipated matchup of the weekend pits the Bulls against the No. 13 Florida Gators.

The Bulls and the Gators met twice last season, with USF dropping both games.

A win would allow USF to climb into the national rankings. The Bulls are No. 41 in the NCAA in the preseason polls. That makes USF the third-highest ranked team in the Big East, behind No. 8 DePaul and No. 36 Louisville.

One key component of the Bulls’ success has been pitching. This season, the Bulls are looking to junior pitcher Cristi Ecks to continue her stellar pitching. Ecks was third in the nation with a 0.73 earned run average, and she is on the preseason watch list for the National Player of the Year Award.

“Her importance (to the team) is tremendous,” Erikson said. “She’s going to throw the ball about 100 times a game, and that’s huge.”

With all of the praise for Ecks, Erikson is keeping her focused on the present, rather than the potential for individual accolades.

“The Player of the Year watch is there because she plays on a team that’s been recognized. She knows that,” Erikson said. “All that it means right now is that she has the potential to win the award. But Cristi is looking forward to competing right now. She’ll do fine.”