TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - The USF softball team's opening weekend schedule is anything by soft.
"If we can play the best competition for 56 straight games, we'd do it," said USF softball coach Ken Eriksen. "We're preparing for something. That something is the ultimate. The ultimate is a national championship."
USF will host three of the nation's top 15 programs during their Opening Weekend Invitational. Teams like Arizona, Michigan, and Florida will all be a good litmus test for USF in the early going of the season.
But Monday, the Bulls will take on what could be their toughest game of the season: The Japanese national team.
"The women from Japan can flat out play," said Eriksen. "They're not No. 1 or 2 in the world over the last 20 years for nothing but hard work. It'll be fun to watch that."
Team Japan will visit multiple college programs around the country. This trip is in preparation for this summer's Pan American Games and next year's Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. Eriksen, who is also the head coach of Team USA, will keep a watchful eye on Japan.
"I've always watched the USA team, I've always watched Team Japan play so I'm very excited to be able to play against them and just have our experiences grow," said Cheyenne Eggens, a senior pitcher for the Bulls. "Every time you play a new team, you get new tools and you learn how to play the game another way."
Eriksen, who has coached against Japan for over a decade during his time with Team USA, says the competition will be unlike anything the Bulls players have seen before.
"Probably like USF baseball playing the New York Yankees," said Eriksen. "I think that's going to be the most shocking thing. The speed of the game. The level of intensity. The level of serious business. But, it's a game that they need to see - our girls need to see - that's played faster than they play now."
If USF wants to be the best, they can start by beating one of the best Monday.