NCAA Softball World Series
NCAA Softball World Series, Is it possible for the man in charge of the nation’s top softball players to be considered a new kid on the block in one of his sport’s premier events?
Ken Eriksen fills that role this week. The coach of the U.S. national team finally cracked the field of the Women’s College World Series in his 16th season in charge at South Florida, and the Bulls will make their debut today.
He’s one in another batch of new faces at the World Series, which had historically been dominated by UCLA and Arizona until recent years. Those two programs combined to win 20 of the sport’s first 28 NCAA titles and together won every championship for a decade — from 1988 to 1997.
But no more.
Neither team made the final eight for the second straight season, and only the third time ever, leaving openings for a new crop of teams to take their best shot.
Oregon is back for the first time since its only other appearance in 1989, and LSU returns for the first time since 2004. They join some of the usual suspects in the field: top-seeded California, defending champion Arizona State, Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
‘Parity is happening and it’s across the country,” Cal coach Diane Ninemire said Wednesday. ‘Any team in any part of the country can be here now. It makes this sport so much more exciting.”
Eriksen sees it from two different angles, trying to build South Florida into a top-level team while also interacting with the nation’s top players during the selection process and summer circuit for the national team.
Seated next to him at a news conference Wednesday was national player of the year Keilani Ricketts, who pitches for him during the summer but will go against him today when fourth-seeded Oklahoma faces South Florida.
The other opening-day matchups are Cal against LSU, No. 2 seed Alabama against SEC rival Tennessee and third-seeded Arizona State against Oregon.
‘We are probably the healthiest we’ve been in a long, long time, with the number of great players on each team,” said Eriksen, who took over as the U.S. coach last year. (Coos Bay World)
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