Bulls softball opens season Thursday
The third decade of the Ken Eriksen era begins Thursday in much the same way each of the first 20 years commenced: with nary a grace period.
Three of the Bulls softball team's first eight opponents are ranked in the top 16 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball preseason poll. The Bulls open play in the USF-Wilson DeMarini tournament Thursday at 6 p.m. against Illinois State, but the highlight of this weekend homestand is a 4 p.m. contest Sunday against No. 3 Florida.
On Saturday, the Bulls -- tied for 24th in the preseason poll -- face No. 6 Michigan at 3:30.
"I don't know any different," said Eriksen, who enters his 21st season with 863 career victories.
"We're trying to win a national championship, so actually the only thing we do differently than anybody else maybe is, we don't take a look at the team name that we're scheduling. We take a look at the pitching staffs.
"I don't think if you get to the end of the year, that there's a pitching staff that's intimidated us since I've been here, because we've seen the best of the best."
As far as his own staff, Eriksen loses '16 workhorse Erika Nunn (27-12. 1.17 ERA) but returns two pitchers -- 6-footers Cheyenne Eggens and Susan Wysocki -- who each had more than 30 appearances last season. Junior JoJo McGill, 33-4 with a 0.83 ERA at College of Central Florida last season, ultimately could evolve into the ace.
Offensively, five of the top seven hitters return, led by senior OF Juli Weber (.406, five home runs, 18 doubles, 39 RBIs).
"You take a look around our whole team, you have that type of mish-mash that you can utilize and platoon defensively," Eriksen said. "And if you can have that flexibility to platoon defensively, then your offense can be pretty good. So we're banking on a lot of athleticism, we're banking on a lot of speed."