It might look a little different this year, but Opening Day for the Florida Gators Softball team is almost here. The preseason No. 7/6 Gators kick off their 2021 campaign with a three-game series at USF, starting with a doubleheader on Saturday.
This season marks another year where the Gators are ranked in the top ten in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Association (NFCA) DI Top 25 Preseason Coaches Poll and the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll. The last time the Gators didn’t accomplish this feat was 2014.
Another Top 10 Ranking‼️ #GoGators
— Gators Softball (@GatorsSB) January 26, 2021
When the COVID-19 outbreak put an abrupt halt to the 2020 season, the Gators were riding a 6-game win streak and held a 23-4 record. A majority of the 2020 team is returning for this season. However, Sophia Reynoso and Jordan Roberts did not elect to return after graduating in the spring.
So, who is returning for the Gators? Simply put, a whole lot of sluggers. Kendyl Lindaman leads a group of returning hitters featuring Hannah Adams, Charla Echols and Julia Cottrill. Lindaman and Echols both earned spots on the Preseason All-SEC team, and the duo also made the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top 50 “Watch List.”
That’s not even to mention the talent the Gators have inside the chalk circle. Florida is returning Katie Chronister, Elizabeth Hightower, Natalie Lugo and Rylee Trlicek. That group boasted a combined 1.82 ERA last season. Only Trevor Bauer and the L.A. Dodgers can match that level of production.
Gators head coach Tim Walton has high expectations of his returning players and expects many of them to be among the best in the country.
A Strong Freshman Class
The Gators hauled in a strong recruiting class, and Walton expects a handful of the freshmen to make a difference right out of the starting gate. Walton told Steve Russell on Sports Scene that he thinks Emily Wilkie, Kali Reis and Avery Goelz are the furthest developed of the six new freshmen.
He said he sees Wilkie as a very versatile player, able to play a number of positions, but she’ll likely back up Julia Cottrill at catcher. Due to the nature of that position, he said he sees her getting a lot of playing time.
Kali Reis is a shortstop that bats lefty. Walton said if Reis can’t play shortstop right out of the gate, then Hannah Adams will move over to that position. And Avery Goelz is a left-handed hitting first baseman that earned the 2020 Gatorade Player of the Year honors.
Additionally, the Gators welcomed Skylar Wallace, a third-year transfer from the Crimson Tide. Wallace boasted a career .341 batting average through her two seasons with Alabama. However, her playing status and eligibility for the 2021 season remain uncertain.
Walton’s Season Outlook
The 2021 softball season, just like all other sports, will look a little bit different this year. Although there have been no announcements for capacity plans at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, coach Walton shared a bit of his outlook on attendance at games and the season in general.
The Gators season-opening doubleheader at the USF Softball Stadium starts at 1 p.m. and will air on ESPN+ and ESPN 98.1FM/850AM, and the series finale is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m.