Coach Ken Eriksen thinks South Florida needs to toughen up, but he lists mound talent as an asset.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 2, 2001
TAMPA -- With preseason practices and two games in the books, the South Florida softball team has turned out to be exactly what coach Ken Eriksen expected: a talented group that is capable of being successful.
But the Bulls have one crucial problem. They are just too polite.
Which is fine when having dinner at a fancy restaurant. It's not quite what a coach wants when he's trying to make it to the College World Series.
"The niceness is the weakness right now," said Eriksen, in his fifth season with the Bulls. "We're really nice people, but there's that old phrase about nice people. ... We have to learn to separate that niceness off the field and be a little bit more mean on the field."
This is a good time to start the hate process. Today through Sunday, South Florida hosts the Louisville Slugger Invitational, which includes Arizona, Tennessee, Hawaii, Northwestern and Florida Atlantic.
As has become custom under Eriksen, the Bulls have a formidable schedule. In 1998, South Florida came within a game of the College World Series, playing tough competition.
"As a player and also as a coach, I like to be very aggressive and challenge our teams," Eriksen said. "I don't think we get any better by playing people that are lower than us in the RPI. We strive to be in the College World Series, and to get to that, you have to play College World Series teams. And we're doing that consistently. We're competing against (that caliber) of teams. Now we have to start beating them."
Following a year of rebuilding in which South Florida finished third in the inaugural year of Conference USA softball, the Bulls return six core veterans and have three talented newcomers.
The Bulls have five pitchers: senior Jessica Kowal; all-freshman team selection Jamie Peterka; senior Jaimie Anderson; Gail Callinan, a walk-on from Hollywood; and Cindy Turek, a freshman from Cooper City.
"We've never had this much depth pitching," senior catcher Priscilla Smith said. "Our pitching staff is stacked right now. They are all good, and they are all capable of going the distance every day."
That depth also gives Eriksen flexibility in games.
"We have the depth, there's no question about that, and it affords me a lot of creative maneuvers," he said. "You've got to have three elements to be successful in the pitching circle: ability, to stay healthy and you have to have a little luck. If we have those three things, I think with the depth of our pitching staff, it will be a real key to our success."
Eriksen and the Bulls also are banking on an intangible: team chemistry.
"We have a lot of camaraderie, and it's extremely important," Smith said. "It is so much easier to get on the field and play with people that you like and you want to see do well, not only for the team goals, but for themselves. We all want each other to be successful in what we're doing, and that's really big."
The Bulls opened the season last week with two losses to FIU, both in the bottom of the ninth inning. Eriksen said the team played well but didn't get breaks. He remains confident this can be a good year.
"I'm always optimistic," Eriksen said. "If you aren't optimistic every year as you approach this game, there's no sense in doing it."