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Coach must keep his eye on two teams

He'll be here for a few days coaching his team, as usual.

Then he's gone for a while. Then back for a bit. Then gone again for a stretch at midseason. Then Is that any way to coach your team? Perhaps not, but that's because Ken Eriksen is coaching two teams this spring.

He is the USF softball coach and a U.S. Olympic assistant coach. Simultaneously.

"You look at my calendar and say, "If you're married, you're going to be divorced,' " Eriksen said.

As the Olympic team tours the country in preparation for the Summer Games in Athens, Greece (and a chance at its third consecutive gold), and as USF aims to improve on its 54-19 record and No. 25 national ranking from 2003, Eriksen, somehow, will pull double duty.

"I think it's great because I'll be representing USF and the Tampa Bay area and getting recognition for softball on the East Coast," said Eriksen, who is married (Debbie) and has two daughters (Tatiana, 7, and Natasha, 3). "We're lucky we have three great (USF assistants), and I think the (USF players) have been preparing for this since the announcement last June. It's not a handicap whatsoever."

The whirlwind has begun. For the past 10 days, Eriksen has been with the Olympic squad, mostly at the training facility in Chula Vista, Calif. He will return to campus early next week. He will leave again right before USF's Jan. 31 season opener, go back and forth a few more times then hopes to be at senior day, the Conference USA tournament and NCAA regional, all in May.

It might seem strenuous, but how often can a school boast of an Olympic coach on its staff?

"It brings a lot of great attention to USF," senior associate athletic director Barbara Sparks-McGlinchy said. "We are prepared for it, and we are extremely excited for Kenny. We've been working on this (situation) for so long, it seems kind of normal now."

"Normal" means longtime associate coach Stacy Heintz and assistant Amber Wright assuming bigger responsibilities. Heintz has been with Eriksen since he became coach in 1997. Wright played at USF and has been on staff since 1999. Also, USF softball Hall-of-Famer Monica Triner is a volunteer assistant.

"Having an Olympic coach in your back yard, right here at USF, it's pretty amazing," Heintz said. "There are going to be people watching us and wondering what's going on with Ken coming and going. But the plan is in place, and we're ready."

"Stacy's on the same page with everything," Eriksen said. "I don't feel at all like we're up the creek without a paddle."

Eriksen's quick wit, which he dispenses with remnants of a New York accent (he's from Stony Brook, Long Island), eases the transitions between his departures and returns. He is expected to miss roughly 30 games, about half of the season.

"He's really funny," senior outfielder Holly Groves said. "It's just great to play for a coach who is very inspiring and is someone we can look up to. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's true."

Added Heintz: "He brings a spark to the game."

Eriksen, who turns 43 on Jan. 31, starred in baseball at USF and has been a fixture with the national softball program as a player and coach. Among his accomplishments: In 1991, he played for the U.S. men's team that won silver at the Pan American Games, and last year, he was an assistant for the women's gold medal squad at the Pan Am games.

Eriksen is one of two assistants, along with Stanford's John Rittman, on coach Mike Candrea's staff. Eriksen works with the pitchers, such as legendary Lisa Fernandez, and catchers, and he prepares scouting reports and game plans.

His worlds collide in early March.

USF hosts the six-team Speedline Tournament on March 4-7. At 6 p.m. March 6, Eriksen coaches his team (the Olympians) against his team (USF).

"I promised I won't be giving out any scouting reports," Eriksen said. "Remember, I've got to come back to those 16 women."

It is shaping up as a milestone season for the Bulls. USF is picked to win C-USA, and Eriksen and former Bull Ginny Georgantas (who plays for Greece) will participate in the Olympics in August.

"It's definitely bragging rights to say that your coach is part of that awesome opportunity," Groves said. "He says we can call him up at any time, and if we don't get him, he'll call us back."

The women's College World Series is May 27-31 in Oklahoma City. USF never has qualified. Eriksen's schedule is clear that week.

"I don't have any plans right there," Eriksen said. "So tell USF to book that flight also."

Ken Eriksen will miss about 30 USF games, about half the season, while with the U.S. Olympic team.