After more than 20 years with USF softball, coach Ken Eriksen is taking a break.
But it’s for an important reason: Eriksen is putting his USF coaching duties on hold to lead Team USA in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“We have some smart people in administration right now that have said that I’m going to be taking a year off from USF to pursue a gold medal for the United States, so it’s worked out that way,” Eriksen said.
Picked to finish first in the AAC preseason coaches poll, the Bulls have great expectations in the season ahead.
On paper, the loss of Eriksen should significantly impact the Bulls.
But Eriksen’s assistant coach and 2020 interim head coach Jessica Moore is taking the challenge head on. And not much is going to change in terms of the team’s philosophy.
Moore, who has coached under Eriksen the past four years, has had a decorated softball career of her own. But if softball didn’t pan out, she had a dream of owning a golden retriever farm.
Not just a few dogs, but a whole farm.
“That’s like my soft spot. I love golden retrievers,” Moore said. “Especially if I had like a farm of little puppies everywhere I’d be like in heaven.”
Softball ended up working out for Moore, but she does have a golden retriever — her name is Sky.
Maybe more well known than her love of goldens is her illustrious pitching career at Oregon from 2010-13.
With the Ducks, she accumulated numerous awards and most notably was named to the All-American first team in 2013. She was also one of three Oregon pitchers in program history to pitch a perfect game.
In 2014, Moore became Idaho State’s assistant coach. She helped lead the Bengals to a Big Sky regular-season championship that year. Moore’s USF coaching career began in July 2015.
But that wasn’t the first time Eriksen and Moore worked together.
Moore began pitching for Team USA under Eriksen in 2011. She most recently played in the 2018 Japan Cup.
“The philosophies that got instilled when we first got together in 2011 as a player-coach relationship is the same philosophy as when she came here to coach,” Eriksen said.
It was around this time that Eriksen began to see Moore’s potential as a coach.
“When you’re working with these young women in the national team program, they have a higher IQ, softball-wise, than a lot of people in the United States,” Eriksen said. “You try to find out, ‘Do they have the capacity? Do they have the knowledge? Are they students of the game themselves?’ And we have a few in the national team program that are good at doing that.
“Jess happens to be one of them.”
Coaching in college is essentially player development coaching, according to Eriksen. He even referred to college softball as the minor leagues.
Part of knowing how to coach a developmental team is having been in that position before, and Moore is familiar with all aspects of being a college athlete.
“I think that’s the biggest challenge. You’re not just dealing with ballplayers. You’re dealing with student-athletes,” Eriksen said. “We all get that it’s a lot of wins before you go out onto the ball field. That’s where coach Moore has an advantage. She was a student-athlete.”
In the time since she’s been with the Bulls, Moore owes her progress to Eriksen’s guidance, she said.
“Ken has probably been my biggest mentor,” Moore said. “I’m thankful for him helping me through the last four years and mentoring me to be ready for a situation like this.”
Entering her fifth season with the Bulls has made the process of taking over at the helm easier for Moore, as she knows the ins and outs of the team.
“It’s really business as usual for the girls. It’s not really that much of a shakeup,” Moore said. “I know that’s really an odd thing to say when you’re talking about Ken Eriksen not being around after 24 years.”
Taking pages out of Eriksen’s book has also given Moore a leg up.
“Our coaching philosophy is the same,” Moore said. “That’s why we put together the staff that we did. Practice sessions, they’re running the same. Different language because we all use our own verbiage, but the philosophies and the blueprint of everything … it’s still Ken’s program.”
Playing under Moore is nothing new to senior outfielder AnaMarie Bruni. She’s been learning from Moore since Day 1.
“I love coach Jess. We definitely butted heads my freshman year because she’s tough on me, but I love that,” Bruni said. “I wasn’t nervous or anything, I was excited … Coach Jess has obviously been here and we trust her a lot.”
Bruni said she wishes Eriksen could be around for her senior season, but she won’t have to wait long to see him back in the dugout at the USF Softball Stadium. Except this time, he’ll be in the away dugout.
On Feb. 4, Team USA will play USF to kick off the Stand Beside Her tour. Eriksen and Moore will go head to head in the first game of the season.
Although it’s a friendly exhibition, Eriksen expects Moore to throw everything at him.
“She’s going out there to kick my a**, I’ll tell you that right now,” Eriksen joked.