OKLAHOMA CITY — Team USA coach Ken Eriksen said coaching the national team is unlike anything a typical college coach faces.
While last year’s historic Oklahoma team came close, no squad has as much raw talent on it as a national team. Eriksen said the biggest adjustment is for the battery, which must adjust to facing prolific hitters all the way through the lineup.
“When you play teams like Australia, Japan and Canada, there’s a tremendous amount of athletes,” he said. “You have to learn how to approach great hitters one through nine, not just one through four and then five through are okay.”
That’s one of many differences in international play. The fences are also moved back from where they were during the Women’s College World Series, and that opens up the outfield more and gives short-ball hitters like Destinee Martinez a chance to excel even moreso than in the collegiate game.
Another difference is the lack of distractions. In college, athletes must balance school with softball, but with the national team there is little else to distract from the game.
“We’re asking for a tremendous amount of focus from these players,” Eriksen said. “But they’ve been handpicked because they can handle it.”
Eriksen balancing schedule: While the national team plays a tight schedule filled with softball, Eriksen said he does his best to make sure the players, who are coming off the end of a busy semester of softball and school, have some time off the field as well.
“That’s my job, to find time for rest for them,” he said. “You have to schedule it out weeks in advance to make sure you have enough downtime but also enough practice time.”
After the team wraps up this weekend, they’ll board a plane Monday to travel to Canada, where they’ll compete in another tournament. They’ll also travel to Puerto Rico in August for another big event.
talent around her: As a finalist for the national player of the year award last season, Oklahoma junior Lauren Chamberlain was recognized as one of the top players in the country.
Now, she’s playing with those in the same company. Chamberlain’s former Oklahoma teammate Keilani Ricketts, who won the award, was named to Team USA before leaving for personal reasons, and Tennessee’s Raven Chavanne were named as finalists and are now on the field with Chamberlain. Taylor Thom and Taylor Hoagland from rival Texas are on the squad as well as Tennessee’s Lauren Gibson, whom the Sooners met in the national title series last season, are also on the roster.
And Chamberlain couldn’t be more excited to share the diamond with former rivals.
“I’m surrounded by the best players and coaches in the world, and I’m constantly learning something new,” she said. “When you play them during the season you’re in warrior mode, but out here is everyone is working for each other. It’s been an easy transition. I’m just trying to soak as much as I can while I can because even though the summer seems long I know it’ll go by very fast.”
Sampson set to transfer: Oklahoma junior Erica Sampson will leave the school and transfer to Tulsa next season. Sampson appeared mainly as a pinch runner for the Sooners and scored 19 runs on the way to last year’s national title.
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