USF’s isn’t reflecting on its 4-1 start last weekend. Instead, its focus is on a difficult opponent ahead — the No. 12 Arizona Wildcats.
“It’s going to be a huge weekend, especially with Arizona coming in,” said senior second baseman Britta Giddens. “We’re going to work hard this week and play our best.”
The Bulls host the Wildcats (2-2) on Friday and Saturday for the USF Wilson Tournament at the USF Softball Complex.
The games will be more than a battle between two teams.
South Florida coach Ken Eriksen and Arizona coach Mike Candrea are friends who coached together on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Softball Team. Eriksen served as an assistant under Candrea, working with pitching and defense.
“It was a great experience simply for the fact that it was another level of women’s softball for me,” Eriksen said. “To go and experience the highest level of the game was an eye-opening thing.”
As the Bulls prepare for the Wildcats, Eriksen said he took some time this week to think about his experience in Athens.
“The Olympics is one of the greatest stages in the entire world,” he said. “The ultimate part of it was when I was standing there, watching the stars and stripes raised above the other two flags. It gives you a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment.”
The U.S. steamrolled through the competition and finished with a 9-0 record. Under Eriksen’s leadership, the team allowed one unearned run in the entire tournament. Eriksen said Candrea’s teaching methods helped.
“Mike told me my job was to keep the other team at zero,” Eriksen said. “His philosophy was to take care of every detail there was. We were able to shut out everybody all the way up to the gold medal game against Australia.”
Arizona, one of the premier programs in the country, has won eight national championships since 1991 — including two of the last three.
The Bulls also host Illinois, Marshall and Hofstra this weekend.
“We’re not doing anything different,” Eriksen said. “The newcomers on this team understand the routines we go through week by week. We will talk about the different teams that will be in this tournament, but other than that we will prepare the same way.”
Eriksen said he’s trying to build a great team at USF like Candrea has done at Arizona.
“Arizona is a model program,” he said. “They did it the right way by getting the players that fit the Arizona style. One thing I’ve learned is that if a player is not your type of player, don’t try to make them your type of player.”
Eriksen said he looks forward to competing against a former colleague.
“It was great working for him,” he said. “He delegates well and he has an extreme amount of confidence in his coaches. He trusted me enough to set up the defensive and pitching game plan. I couldn’t ask for more out of a boss.”
Eriksen has put the softball team on the national radar. Assistant coach Stacey Heintz said she credits his international experience with making the players better.
“He had a great experience coming in contact with the best of the best in softball,” Heintz said. “When you can take that experience and share it with our girls, I think it helps them to grow just to hear about it.”
Senior pitcher Cristi Ecks said she has benefited from Eriksen’s international experience.
“He’s worked with some of the best coaches in the country,” Ecks said. “He knows the game in and out, and he’s able to use the strategies they used to win the gold medal with us.”