TAMPA, Fla. – Astin Donovan is feeling right at home more than 1,000 miles from Guilford, Conn.
The University of South Florida sophomore and USA Junior National Team outfielder credits head coach Ken Eriksen with creating a supportive and successful environment around the Bulls’ softball program.
Especially away from the diamond.
“No. It’s not just softball,” Donovan says of Eriksen, who also serves as the head coach of the USA Women’s National Team.
As a star shortstop at Mercy High School, Donovan said that she didn’t give the Bulls’ program strong consideration until later in her college recruitment process.
“I never really had South Florida on my radar until I met coach at a camp,” Donovan said. “Then I started e-mailing him back and forth and came to visit, and I started to really love it.
“You want to get to know your head coach before you come because he’s basically going to become like your father figure. So I think his personality, he’s caring, it all just helps the transition.”
Erikson, a South Florida graduate, has grown familiar with this process through two decades of leading the program.
With 17 winning seasons and 11 NCAA appearances on his resume, he continues to focus on how his players will match the personalities of their USF teammates.
“Obviously they can play, but are they going to be the right fit here? That transition, you’re trying to make as easy as possible so there’s a lot of positivity in that teaching process and you’re just trying to learn the individual,” Eriksen said. “I think that’s the most important aspect of it.”
Building a softball family at USF has been made easier for Astin by her teammate and older sister, senior third baseman Amber Donovan. The younger Astin credits her big sister with giving her the honest feedback she needs to hear.
“Yeah,” Donovan said with a laugh, “but that’s the part that works because some people tell you what you want to hear in a nicer way, but your sister will just be straight up with you.”
As a first-year player with the Bulls in 2015, she also credits some of the program’s older players with helping her transition. This includes a position change to the outfield, an idea brought to her by coach Erikson that she’s come to love.
She singled out D’Anna Devine, a senior during Donovan’s first season.
“She was an outfielder and she was kind of my mentor so I followed her and she was also a slapper so we had a lot in common,” Donovan said. “She just took me under her wing.”