USF opens season

Playing the No. 3 and No. 13 teams in the country in a span of two days will be a useful measuring stick for USF coach Ken Eriksen’s squad as it begins the softball season.

But that’s not what he’s thinking about right now as the Bulls prepare for the USF Wilson-DeMarini Tournament at the Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater, which starts Friday at 4 p.m. against Canisius.

“The other opponent has no jersey,” said Eriksen, entering his 14th year as USF’s coach. “It doesn’t matter who we’re … against in a 56-game schedule. Our situation of play from the first pitch on is what we’re concerned with.”

USF, which went 28-11 at home last season (including games played in Clearwater), will host 27 regular season games at the Eddie C. Moore Complex and 14 at the USF Softball Stadium, as it undergoes renovations.

A change in scenery may take some getting used to, said senior Tara Toscano.

“It’s just a transition time, and it’s unfortunate we’re in this spot, but we’re very fortunate to have Clearwater host us,” she said.

USF plays five games this weekend, including matchups with No. 3 Florida on Saturday and No. 13 Georgia Tech on Sunday. The tournament hosts East Carolina and Illinois as well.

Florida, which finished 63-3 last year, made it to the final round of the Women’s College World Series but was swept by Washington State.

“We’re not really playing the name game right now,” Toscano said. “All we’re playing is the other team. It’s an opponent – there’s no faces.”

Eriksen said he’s looking forward to finding out more about his team this weekend.

“You want to find out what your strengths are and cultivate those strengths on how you’re going to run your offense,” he said. “Defense is defense – you have to be able to catch the ball and throw the ball. Whether you have team speed or power or a combination of both is going to dictate how we’re going to approach the year and how our lineup is going to be set.”

Departed seniors – pitcher Cristi Ecks and second baseman Britta Giddens – left big shoes to fill, but USF opens this season with 10 seniors on its 23-player roster.

Ecks was third in the Big East last year with a 1.72 ERA and Giddens batted .378, which was fourth in the conference.

“I’ve got 21 players (who) we’ll dress out and I hope every one of them is a leader,” Eriksen said. “There’s going to be people that have more experience than others that’ll feel more comfortable early on. As far as delegating authority, we try to be a unit of one. I think that’s the best approach.”