TAMPA- For 15 seasons, University of South Florida softball coach Ken Eriksen has been bringing some of the best softball talent to the Tampa Bay area, but this weekend he brings a different kind of softball to the Bay area.
Eriksen was named head coach of the United States National Softball team this past winter, and will bring the top American softball talent to Tampa this weekend as the National and Junior National Teams practice at USF, with the two teams playing a double-header on Saturday evening in Plant City.
“Having our facility right there is a big deal,” Eriksen said. “When you have that type of venue, I think the best teams in the country want to come to play inside there and train inside there. The marriage between USF and Team USA over the last 11 or 12 years has been a great one. Now, to be able to host a training session with the best team in the world in your own house is a great opportunity for the Tampa Bay area and the community.”
The weekend creates a unique opportunity for fans to see the National team as they prepare for the World Cup of Softball which takes place July 21-25 in Oklahoma City, where they will square off against teams like Canada, Japan, the Czech Republic, Great Britain and Australia.
“If you are a softball fan, you will really appreciate what goes on the ball fields,” Eriksen said. “You will appreciate those elite athletes in practice and what they are doing. To see them in competition could be a once in a lifetime opportunity for a lot of people. To see so many young people at the start of something that could be very huge. It reminds me a lot of the 2001 team when we had people that we really unknown in respect to Cat Osterman, Jenny Finch and Jessica Mendoza before they became superstars. I think we are in the same spot of the process now in the program.”
Eriksen, who helped lead the Bulls to a fourth place finish in the BIG EAST this past year, has the unique challenge of switching gears from the college game to take on arguably the greatest collection of softball talent in the world.
“As we do this interview, I am sitting at my desk, in Tampa, at USF and it is crazy and hectic with recruiting right now,” Eriksen said. “My left hand is doing the USF stuff, my right hand is doing the USA stuff and my head is in the middle spinning like crazy and I am getting about four hours of sleep a night.”
But, for one weekend at least, Eriksen gets to return to his roots to coach the National team in his own backyard, and he isn’t the only one with a homecoming this weekend.
“We are very proud of the fact that Kourtney Salvarola chose the University of South Florida over a lot of other programs, because she was a National Team player prior to coming here,” Eriksen said. “When she did make the Junior National Team that will participate in December in the World Championships in South Africa, it says a lot about the type of person that we have now playing for us. It also says a lot about the type of person that Kourtney is.”
Salvarola just completed her freshman campaign at USF where she finished fifth on the team with a .290 average, and third in RBI (43) and second in home runs with eight. Salvarola heads part of a freshman class that hopes to be the future of USF.
But, this weekend Salvarola plays as part of the future of USA softball as she participates with the Junior National team.
“Don’t miss it,” Eriksen said. “It is going to be very, very exciting. You are going to see a lot of speed, a lot of power and some great pitching. Most of the girls that pitched in the College World Series will be pitching on Saturday night, not only for the National Team but also for the Junior National Team.”
Fans can catch Eriksen, Salvarola and the rest of the National Team on Saturday as the teams play a double-header beginning at 6 p.m. Plant City Stadium. Tickets are 15 dollars and can be purchased through the National Team’s Website (http://floridaasa.eventbrite.com/).