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July 10, 2013

Team USA coach faces challenge balancing talented lineup

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.

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