Questions surround USF softball coach Ken Eriksen and the USF softball team heading into the 2015 season.
After losing the heart of the lineup from last season, Eriksen looks to prove the program’s success wasn’t just riding on the arm of Sara Nevins and the bat of Kourtney Salvarola.
“As old as I am, and as long as I’ve been around, it’s not a new era, it’s just another part of the cycle that goes on,” Eriksen said at the team’s media day last week. “You’ve got an opportunity to show the people that have played softball in our community and nationwide that it wasn’t about just four or five players.”
USF has had much success over the last few seasons, including the program’s first-ever Women’s College World Series appearance in 2012, but Eriksen will now have to find a new lineup to generate that same success.
“I don’t think it will be unrealistic to show up to the ballpark and see three freshmen in the starting lineup, maybe four; that’s how good this recruiting class is,” Eriksen said. “They’ve proven they can play against some of the best pitching in the country in scrimmages.”
USF’s roster features eight new players, including seven freshmen. Among these freshmen, two attended the USA Softball Junior National Team Selection Camp, with one, Astin Donovan, having been named an alternate for the Junior National Team.
Senior pitcher Sam Greiner, who was with the team during its World Series run, enters her last season with USF, but to her, this team has something special about them.
“Out of the past four years, I think this team has the best team chemistry,” Greiner said. “The girls are fitting right in and they know their roles. The expectation this year is to go very far.”
Much the same as last season, the Bulls will rely on pitching as their strength. Last season, Nevins started 32 games, leading the AAC in wins (29), ERA (1.35), shutouts (9), strikeouts (299) and opponents’ batting average (.144).
This season, USF has no pitcher that has started more than 24 games in a single season, but that doesn’t mean Eriksen will shy away from putting them in the rotation during crunch time.
“I have no fear in putting people in tough situations, ever,” Eriksen said. “If they’re (at USF), I thought they could play and they have proven they could play. I trust every one of them, one through 24.”
For the Bulls, experience doesn’t directly correlate to skill level. Eriksen is confident in his youth and said the team doesn’t need just one ace in the lineup.
“I think we have four aces,” Eriksen said. “Against certain teams, (Erica Nunn) will be the ace. Against another, (Greiner) will be the ace. My job is to make sure the matchups are there.”
Speed will also be an asset to this year’s Bulls in an offense that Eriksen wants to resemble the Oregon Ducks Football team.
“We have some girls that can run; if you come watch us practice, it’s like a track meet,” Eriksen said. “We run our offense like Oregon runs their offense in football; it’s going to be nonstop. Don’t expect to take a break.”
USF won’t be able to take much of a break this season. The Bulls’ season includes 13 games against NCAA tournament teams from 2014, including the defending National Champion UF on Sunday.
USF kicks off the 2015 season tonight at the USF Softball Stadium against Hampton. First pitch is at 7 p.m.
The Bulls have experienced the thrill of a World Series run, and this year, the Bulls don’t want their offseason to start any sooner than May 28.
“We don’t have goals, we have dreams. And I think everyone’s dream in that locker room is to get back to Oklahoma City,” Eriksen said. “Once you taste it, and these guys tasted it in (Greiner’s) freshman year, you want to get back.”