USF softball will be tested early and often this season.
The Bulls face No. 7 Arizona, No. 19 Michigan and No. 5 Florida all within the first weekend of the season. But the biggest and most exciting challenge comes against a team that won’t even count toward their record or rankings.
USF faces Team Japan on Feb. 11 at 6 p.m. at the USF Softball Stadium. Japan, the No. 2-ranked national team, according to the World Baseball Softball Commission, is touring the U.S. as it trains and prepares for the 2020 Olympics.
Coach Ken Eriksen is plenty familiar with Team Japan, having coached against it many times during his nearly-decade-long tenure as Team USA’s head coach.
“They’re a pretty good team from what I understand,” Eriksen joked. “I’ve seen them play for about the last 12 years. They’ve got a couple of gold medals and Olympic stuff and world championships … they can play a little bit.”
While Eriksen has plenty of coaching experience against high-level teams like Japan, for his players, the announcement brought excitement to the defending AAC regular season champions.
“We were all very, very excited,” senior Cheyenne Eggens said. “I’ve always watched the USA team, I’ve always watched Team Japan play, so I’m very excited to be able to play against them and just have our experiences grow because everytime you play a new team, you get new tools and you learn how to play the game another way. So, we’re all really excited.”
Senior Mia Fung shared Eggens’ sentiments of excitement.
“I think we were all really excited,” Fung said. “It’s honestly very nerve-racking, but just for the excitement of who they are — the name — No. 2 in the world — just who it is, it’s awesome experience. We’ve never been able to do anything like that before and I’m just glad I get to do it in my last year. I get to experience that, so it’s pretty cool.”
Because the game is against a non-collegiate club, the game nor its stats will count for or against the Bulls, which may help USF players stay calm.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” senior Lindsey Devitt said.
The odds may naturally be stacked against USF in a game against Team Japan, but USF does have one thing on its side Team Japan won’t — home field advantage.
“I think it’s awesome, honestly, because then the home crowd can come see that,” Fung said. “We have the ability to be on our own field — we know our field, so that gives us a little bit of an advantage. It gives us a little bit more comfort because this is our home. So, I think it’ll be fun — it’ll be great.”
At the end of the day, the game will be nothing more than an exhibition and valuable experience for a USF squad picked to finish first in the AAC in the preseason poll.
And, of course, a fun experience for everyone involved.
“I’d feel better sometimes if the team that I’m coaching has U-S-A on your chest,” Eriksen said. “But we’ll take the first two letters and we’ll have a lot of fun with it.”