OKLAHOMA CITY — Ken Eriksen enjoys the teaching part of coaching more than anything else. As the longtime coach at South Florida, he incorporates that philosophy into the program he’s been a part of for more than two decades.
And it’s a quality that’s even more important to his job as head coach of the U.S. national team.
Bringing together 18 women from across the country, former rivals turned into temporary teammates, is a feat that comes with its share of challenges. But it’s a challenge that Eriksen has embraced.
“Teaching is what I thrive on,” he said. “Being on this team is different than a college team. It takes a real commitment to the details, the little things.”
That’s what Eriksen built his program on at South Florida, and it’s brought success to the east-coast school that didn’t have much of a softball program before Eriksen took over the head job in 1997. In his first season at the helm, he led the team to a 50-13 record, a top-10 ranking and an NCAA regional. Since then, he’s had just four seasons without at least 40 wins and led the team to 10 tournament appearances and its first-ever Women’s College World Series berth in 2012.
Eriksen joined the national team as an assistant in 2001 and is in his second year as head coach. He has a number of newcomers to the squad this summer and is building toward the World Championships in 2014.
“These girls are all here for a reason: they can play,” he said. “Hopefully by the World Championships we’ll have a pretty good casserole going on.”
One of the players who will likely figure prominently on both this and next year’s team is Oklahoma junior Lauren Chamberlain, who helped lead OU to the national title last season and is well on pace to break the collegiate career home run record.
And Chamberlain, who is described by Sooners coach Patty Gasso as the best hitter on the planet, is eager to learn from Eriksen.
“I’m surrounded by the best players and coaches in the world, and I’m constantly learning something new,” she said. “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.”
The national team experience isn’t new to Chamberlain, who participated on the junior national team before moving up. That’s all part of Eriksen’s plan for Team USA, keeping the players familiar with the program before they even take the field for the squad. Combining those newcomers with returners from the previous team helps to establish a continuity in the program that Eriksen sees as crucial to success.
“It’s really important to have those good returners to help teach the younger kids,” he said. “We want to play as perfect as we can. We’re asking for a tremendous amount of focus from these players, but they’ve been handpicked because they can handle it.”
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