Two selling points for Liberty University’s softball program — its new stadium and its head coach, Olympic gold medalist Dot Richardson — left members of the USA Women’s National Team awestruck on Tuesday.
|Construction continues on the new Liberty Softball Stadium.|
“It’s probably one of the state-of-the-art softball stadiums in the United States right now,” Team USA Head Coach Ken Eriksen said after visiting the facility, which is in the final phases of construction. “You’re not going to find that kind of ballpark anywhere in the country, no matter what conference you’re in. It’s a palatial park for any student-athlete to want to come to.”
Lynchburg is the first stop on the team’s 2014 Exhibition Tour. It will face a Central Virginia All-Star team coached by Richardson in a doubleheader on Friday at 7 p.m. at City Stadium, before putting on a softball clinic from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at Peaks View Park for ages 6-18. The games and practices are serving as part of the team’s selection process.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Richardson said at a news conference announcing the team’s visit. “Coaching the (Central Virginia All-Star) team against our USA National Team will be a switch, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The All-Star team is composed of current and former players from regional colleges, including four recent Liberty graduates — pitcher Alyssa DeMartino, infielders Marybeth Sciolino and Sammi Shivock, and outfielder Katie Zavodny, who on Wednesday was named to the VaSID All-State Softball First Team.
|Prospective USA Softball National Team members gather at the end of Wednesday's practice on the old Liberty softball field.|
The 24 current Team USA prospects, including four players from Southeastern Conference (SEC) rivals Florida and Alabama which met in the June 3 College Softball World Series final — practiced together for the first time Wednesday morning at Liberty’s old softball field.
Second baseman Lauren Gibson, named 2013 SEC Player of the Year as a senior at Tennessee, met Richardson two weekends ago at the College Softball World Series in Oklahoma City. On Tuesday, she and her USA Softball teammates, who flew in from all over the country, received a personal tour of Liberty’s new stadium from the USA Softball legend.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Gibson, who will be competing in her second Pan American Games next summer in Toronto, Canada, after leading Team USA to a championship in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2011. “Any time you get to be around a gold medalist is a very exciting time. Just to be able to talk with her has been great. I’ve always looked up to her when I was little. She played second and short, just like I do.”
“To be here at Liberty and to have Dot involved was a huge deal,” Eriksen added. “She’s an icon in the game, and history will show that she’s probably one of the greatest players who have ever played.”
Richardson was 17 years old when she made her first USA National Team. She went on to lead the squad to five World Championships, five Pan American Games titles, and two Olympic gold medals — in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996 and Sydney, Australia in 2000.
The last time the USA National Team was together was last August, when it run-ruled Canada in the gold medal game of the Pan American Qualifier in Puerto Rico, outscoring opponents by an 84-4 margin overall in the tournament.
“We were successful,” Eriksen said. “We ended on a high note, so we’re trying to carry over that momentum.”
That qualified the team for the Aug. 13-23 International Softball Federation World Championships in The Netherlands and next summer’s Pan American Games in Toronto. First, it will compete in the World Cup of Softball, July 7-12 in Irvine, Calif.
The team will play exhibition games in Findlay, Ohio, and Purcellville, Va., next week before Eriksen and a Women’s National Team Selection Committee trims the roster to 17 players.