With the start of softball season only three weeks away, coaches in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) predicted the Bulls to finish third in the conference in the annual AAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, which was released Wednesday.
In the poll, the Bulls trailed only Tulsa and Houston, which placed first and second as the AAC’s tournament champion and runner-up last season.
If 2018 is anything like last season, the Golden Hurricane and Cougars figure to be USF’s toughest in-conference competition as the Bulls went a combined 1-5 against the programs, while going 8-3 against the rest of the conference.
USF is returning from a 32-24 regular season finish in 2017 and the team will be welcoming back 17 of its 23 players, including AAC first-team all-conference pitcher Cheyenne Eggens, as well as second-team talents Astin Donovan and Lauren Evans.
Eggens led the USF pitching staff with an 1.87 ERA as a sophomore last season, posting a 9-6 record in 35 appearances, 14 of which as a starter. As a freshman, Eggens finished her season with a perfect 7-0 record.
Also returning for USF will be sophomore utility player Bethaney Keen. Keen earned an all-rookie team selection last season after leading the Bulls with 7 multiple-RBI games. In 2017, Keen played for the USA Junior Women’s National Team and played against international powerhouses Canada, Mexico and Japan during her experience.
Potentially the biggest loss for USF from last year’s team is second baseman Kristen Wyckoff. The USF alumnus led the team with a .400 batting average, which ranks 7th all-time in USF history. In addition to her prowess at the plate, Wyckoff led the team with 17 stolen bases last season. After last season, she signed with the Akron Racers in the National Pro Fastpitch League to continue her softball career.
Head Coach Ken Eriksen will be in his 22nd season as the Bulls’ manager. In his tenure as a Bull, he has led the program to 12 NCAA postseason appearances, two NCAA Super Regionals, a College World Series berth, five conference titles and 895 wins.
The Bulls will be tested early in 2018, with matchups against No. 20 Michigan and No. 3 Florida on back-to-back days on Feb. 10 and 11.
After the weekend clashes against the Wolverines and Gators, the Bulls will face off against No. 12 Tennessee on Feb. 17 and No. 1 Oregon on March 1. The Bulls will open conference play on March 23 against UConn and will travel to No. 25 Tulsa to play a series against the defending conference champions starting on April 13.
The Bulls season will begin, as it did last season, with a home matchup against Illinois State, with this year’s clash starting at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 8. Last year, the Bulls defeated the Redbirds with a walk-off homerun from Keen in her first ever game as a Bull.