Battling the world’s best team is about experience, not wins
As the University of South Florida women’s softball team approached their three-game series against Team USA this past weekend in Tampa, the experience was looked at as a learning opportunity without any added stress.
The series, won in three-straight by the world’s best team, gave both freshmen and seniors alike the opportunity to finetune skills, build confidence, and face elite competition.
Many of the women on the USF squad, including stars Brooke Hartman and Bethaney Keen, approached the series with ease and a relaxed attitude.
“They are just somebody else in a different uniform,” said Hartman, via Zoom. “They have to hit the ball. They have to catch the ball. They have to throw strikes. They have to get outs as well so just be you, I guess. It’s just a game. Everybody has to get outs.”
USF has a history of matchups with international teams. This is the second year in a row USF has faced the U.S. national team, and they played Team Japan in 2019. In the single game against USA last season, USF battled in a close 3-0 loss.
The Stand Beside Her Tour, which this series is included in, is a chance for the U.S. national side to prepare under coach Ken Eriksen (normally the USF boss), for the Tokyo Olympic games.
As for the Tampa-based school, facing national teams is meant to be a learning experience and to help grow the skills being developed over these players’ collegiate careers.
USF Assistant Coach Tommy Santiago has been with the team for four of the last seven years and has seen the progress that his team has made through competitions with national squads.
“I think anytime you get to play the best team in the world you’re going to notice some traits that they have and why they’re the best,” said Santiago. “For us, we’re going to give them our best shot, and we learn from what we do constantly.”
For some veteran players, such as all-star pitcher Georgina Corrick, playing Team USA is a chance for her to continue to grow but also to lead as an example for her peers.
“I think you’re never going to get better unless you throw against teams that are better than you,” said Corrick. “I usually feel if I’m leading by example, if I’m doing the right thing or having a lot of fun doing the right thing, people tend to follow.”
Although the series this weekend ended in lopsided victories for USA (12-0, 8-0, 10-1), some of the USF players were able to show their talent, including freshman Vivian Ponn who followed Corrick’s example.
Ponn, who joined the Bulls in 2020, was stellar on the mound during USF’s first two contests with Team USA. The Fort Myers native threw a combined three and two thirds innings, allowing no hits or runs against a world-class lineup.
She is no stranger to the moment having struck out a batter in last year’s game against team USA.
“She was probably one of the best hitters on their team,” said Ponn. “I remember I threw a drop ball, on the outside corner, she didn’t swing, called strike three. It was pretty exciting actually.”
Eriksen’s position as head of both clubs created a peculiar circumstance both this year and last.
“I told [Eriksen] I don’t even know what dugout he’s going to be in, USF’s or USA, but he’s got double duty that day so it’s kind of funny,” said Santiago. “Even last year when we played them … he was in the dugout and I go ‘You know our signs, this is not fair, you can’t be looking at me the whole time.’
“We had so much fun with it.”
Junior first baseman Maddison Epperson believes the situation is advantageous in the big picture.
“Just having an opportunity to play Team USA is an honor, especially having their coach be our coach 24/7,” said Epperson. “What they’re taught, we’re also being taught, and we’re being coached the same way.”
Epperson hit a clutch single which drove in a run in the fourth inning of Sunday’s game.