For USF softball coach Ken Eriksen, who also coaches the senior U.S. Women’s National Team, the chance to bring the national program to USF’s campus was a dream come true.
Hampered by weather for most of their stay, the senior national team and the Junior Women’s National Team spent Friday practicing on campus before playing a rain-delayed doubleheader against each other at International Softball Federation Headquarters in Plant City on Saturday night.
“The University of South Florida has treated these two programs with a lot of class, and all we keep hearing from the girls is, ‘Wow, wow, wow,'” Eriksen said. “We forget what we have here, but when we hear it from the University of Oregon and from the University of Arkansas, from Alabama (and) Missouri that, ‘Oh my gosh, not only is the stadium beautiful, but this Athletic building, we don’t have this,” … Now the national team program says, ‘Why haven’t we been here in the past?’ and “Now we want to come back here in the future,’ so that’s a good deal.”
For Eriksen and the senior national team, Tampa was the first stop on an exhibition tour after a training camp in Chula Vista, Calif.
“I think we picked some good athletes for this team,” Eriksen said. “It was exhilarating to watch the best players that are in the United States of America’s pool for softball battle against each other. We’ve always said that some of the greatest games that we’ve ever watched haven’t been just us playing against Canada or us playing against Japan or Australia, but us playing against us, battling for spots (on the senior Women’s National Team).”
The senior Women’s National Team won both games of the doubleheader, 13-1 and 12-0, in games that were more about experience than competition. USF infielder Kourtney Salvarola went 0-for-2 as the designated player for the junior Women’s National Team in game one, striking out looking and grounding out to first.
For Salvarola, the opportunity to play against her college coach was an unusual one.
“I’m just going to look at him as if he’s any other coach, but it’s hard because I think a lot of him and I really enjoy being around him,” Salvarola said.
Eriksen said he doesn’t view it as playing “against” the junior national team. Because, the national team could be in the future for many of the junior athletes.
“It’s funny because you can look at it as ‘versus’ each other, but in reality, (Salvarola) is in our program,” Eriksen said. “She is in the Team USA program, so I’ll mentor her just like I would mentor anybody in the junior national team program. To me, it’s not about the final score or who has the biggest at bat, it’s about making sure both teams are getting better. They’re the AAA team, we’re the major league team. We want them to play well, but we’re gonna give them a heck of a challenge.”
Both teams leave Tampa today for the next stop on their exhibition tour, Salem, Va. After a doubleheader there, they will travel to Bowie, Md., before the junior team disbands again until December. The senior nation team will then travel to Surrey, British Columbia, for the Canadian Open FastPitch International Championship from July 9-17.
That tournament will be followed by the World Cup of Softball VI in Oklahoma City from July 21-25 and the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, from Oct. 17-25. The junior national team next competes at the ISF IX Jr. Women’s World Championship in Cape Town, South Africa, from Dec. 6-17.
For Eriksen, the busy travel schedule keeps his summer interesting.
“I’m having fun when I’m on the ball field,” Eriksen said. “We leave here, go to Salem, Va., for three days, Baltimore for three days, back to Tampa for three days, up to Canada for 12 days, Oklahoma City for eight days, home for four days, go recruiting for three days, on vacation for 12 hours, go recruiting again and then all of a sudden, we’re starting ball at USF again on Aug. 29. If you ask me what day it is, I couldn’t tell you, but I’m having fun.”
The junior national team’s roster stays intact for two years at a time, so even though this summer just began, Salvarola is already familiar with her teammates. She said they’re her favorite part of the national team experience.
“I love being with this group of girls because they’re very talented, and I think I get better just being around the girls and the coaching staff,” Salvarola said. “It’s an honor to wear USA, so I’m enjoying the experience. Playing against the big-girl team is really, really good for us.”