This year the Florida softball team will set out to redeem themselves from an unexpected early close to their season last year. After winning the national title two years in a row, the Gators still had one of the best teams in the country, but lost to Georgia in the super regional. In the offseason, Florida lost one of the most successful classes in its history. But now, the Gators are looking forward to this season and this time the target on their backs is not quite as big.
Although the Gators have lost a lot of great talent, the team did not lose any pitchers. The returning pitching staff is made up of senior Delanie Gourley, junior Aleshia Ocasio and sophomore Kelly Barnhill. Last year, this group altogether averaged a .93 era. and each one had at least 15 wins.
Head coach Tim Walton would often rotate the starting pitcher, not relying on just one ace throughout the season. This year, freshman Katie Chronister will be added to the mix as another left-handed pitcher alongside Gourley. Walton is looking forward to using each of his pitchers in a similar way to last year.
Chronister is not the only freshman that will look to make an early impact. The Gators have three other freshmen joining the team this year, each of which should expect some playing time. Sophia Reynoso will finally get to play this season as a redshirt freshman after sitting out from an injury last year. Walton said that she will be expected to take over as starting shortstop and she has the leadership to back it up.
Other returning players to look forward to are sophomore Amanda Lorenz and juniors Kayli Kvistad and Nicole DeWitt.
— Gators Softball (@GatorsSB) February 2, 2017
Florida has earned a top five preseason ranking in both polls this year. In the USA Today/NFCA Coaches’ Poll the Gators share the #4 ranking with LSU. The top three of that poll is Oklahoma at #1, Auburn at #2 and FSU at #3. In the ESPN.com/USA Softball Preseason Collegiate Top 25 Florida is the third ranked team in the country, coming behind Oklahoma and Auburn at numbers one and two respectively.
This year for the SEC, each team is considered a threat. In both preseason polls, there are nine teams ranked in the top 25. With such great competition, Walton expects for each matchup to be a tough fight and a new challenge.
To start the 2017 season, Florida will play in the USF- Wilson Demarini Tournament in Tampa. Friday, they will face Illinois State followed by a double header on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, the Gators will face their first top ten matchup with #6 Michigan and then they will play Delaware. On Sunday, Florida will take on Saint John’s and finally #25 USF to close the weekend.
The Gators will play their first home game Friday, February 17 as they host the Aquafina Invitational.