Softball season preview

The USF Softball season begins on Saturday against UF. Here are a few things Bulls fans can look forward to this season. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

After a season cut short in 2020, the USF softball team is ready to take on the long-anticipated 2021 season.

“The thought of just being back in the game, on the field, is very exciting for me, especially because this is five years that I’ve been here,” senior outfielder AnaMarie Bruni said Thursday. “It’s not that I have the nerves, but it’s more of like the butterflies for excitement, so I’m really excited just to get out there with my girls and go play some softball.”

The players are itching to get on the diamond, but before the season begins Saturday against UF, here are some things to look forward to.

Schedule highlights

The Bulls have a loaded schedule top to bottom, but a select few matchups stand out from the rest.

The first set of games to keep an eye on is the opening weekend series against UF from Feb. 13-14 at home. The two teams will also meet April 7 at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville.

The Gators have quite a bite, being ranked No. 5 in Division I softball, but the Bulls will be prepared for the task of ending their 17-game losing streak against UF.

Another team on the schedule for fans to look out for is the University of Arizona, which USF last faced in 2019. The teams split the season series 1-1. The Bulls take on the Wildcats from March 6-7.

Arizona was ranked sixth in Division I softball last year, so beating a highly ranked team would be an admirable achievement.

From March 12-14, the Bulls are scheduled to face Team USA. Coach Ken Eriksen left USF for a period of time last season to coach Team USA, so watching his two teams face off will be a unique opportunity.

Finally, the War on I-4 is scheduled to take place at UCF from May 7-9. Not only are the Knights rivals, but they were also ranked seventh in the country last year.

All eyes on the pitching staff

The Bulls have had abundant talent on their pitching staff in recent years, and this year is no different.

Highlighting the pitchers is junior Georgina Corrick who was named to the USA Softball Player of the Year watchlist for the second year in a row, an honor that she is somewhat overwhelmed by.

“I think it’s really exciting,” she said. “Obviously getting your name out there and kind of having people knowing who you are and kind of fearing your skill set before the season is definitely exciting and a little daunting.”

With an overall ERA of 1.36 and a total of 551 strikeouts at USF, every player she faces will have to prepare for what is coming.

In addition to Corrick, the Bulls have plenty of skilled arms ready to go. Eriksen spoke on Thursday about sophomores Camryn Dolby and Brittany Hook as players who can make a difference this season.

“When you have a transfer like Camryn Dolby last year, that gets into our system and really begins to develop, I think you’re already seeing some things right now that are gonna help Georgina out quite a bit,” Eriksen said. “In increasing innings for Dolby, she’s very competitive that way.”

After coming from Boston College, Dolby has made sure that she is a force to be reckoned with. In Boston, she threw 116 strikeouts, and in the short 2020 season, a total of 33.

“You also have Brittany Hook, who’s got another year of experience under her and more mature in the approaching of the hitters.”

Hook finished the 2020 season with an ERA of 2.05 in 13.2 innings in just her second year playing.

What to expect

Although COVID-19 has presented challenges during the past year, USF has been able to see the bright side of a complicated situation.

Bruni said the Bulls’ limited practice time has actually benefited the team overall.

“Even though we had less practice together as a team, it’s actually been beneficial to us because we’re not really overthinking,” she said. “We’re kind of just going out there and playing the game that we’ve trained our whole lives for, I think that’s been the beneficial part.

“Even though we haven’t faced another team, I think our intrasquad scrimmages have been really beneficial for especially the new girls to kind of get in that game speed.”

Despite a schedule filled with big-name opponents, Eriksen only has one expectation for how he expects his team to play in those tough matchups.

“I expect us to win,” Eriksen said.