It’s business as usual for the Florida Gators softball team as it prepares for 2017 post-season play. For the third consecutive year and the fifth time in history, the Gators are the No. 1 overall seed in the national tournament, a feat no team but Florida has ever accomplished more than once.
“There’s a lot to be said about doing something like that,” said head coach Tim Walton. “That tells you a lot about your whole body of work. That tells you about what you did all season long from February all the way until May. I don’t know that it’s helped us in some of the seeding process, but I do know that you can’t take that stuff away from our team … We’re the University of Florida for a reason and being number one is pretty cool. I think that it says a lot about our players in respect to their consistent work ethic.”
After so much previous success, it has almost come to be expected that Florida will be the top team in the country year in and year out.
The Gators had no problem handling that pressure this season, as they won 50 games and put up a 20-3 record to take the regular season title in the toughest conference in college softball. But along with the pressure Florida faces as a target throughout the season, the target on the team’s back grows even larger as the No. 1 seed in post-season.
Florida fans are probably the only fans who want to see this team win and that is something the Gators have learned to accept and embrace.
“We are the favorite, but we’re also the favorite for people wanting to watch us lose too,” Walton said. “I recognize that. Everybody wants to see the underdog win, so you’ve just gotta embrace it and have fun with it.”
The Gators got back to work this week with a bit of a sour taste in their mouths after exiting the SEC Tournament in quarterfinals for the first time since 2014. While a poor conference tournament outing wasn’t ideal, Florida has tried to take the positives away from it rather than the negatives.
“I feel like it’s coming together really well,” said sophomore pitcher Kelly Barnhill. “We’ve had the ups and downs, a couple losses, but we learn from every loss and sometimes the losses are more helpful than the wins to help you figure out what we need to work on going forward when we face some of these top ranked programs in the next couple of weeks.”
Since returning home, the Gators have had some time to refresh their bodies and refocus. With more time to focus on themselves rather than a weekend’s worth of opponents ahead of the Gainesville Regional, Florida sees its added practice time as an advantage.
“We’ve been really focused,” said sophomore left fielder Amanda Lorenz. “It’s been a really good couple days of work. I don’t think that we’ve had this many consecutive days of being this honed in and on our goal, and it’s been really fun. Everybody is doing their job really well and getting better each and every day and you can’t ask for more.”
While the Gators are making the most of this week and trying to forget their SEC Tournament performance, the 2-0 loss to Ole Miss pointed out some weaknesses on offense and defense. The most frustrating to Walton was the lack of production from his offense, particularly the top of the order.
“I think if you wanna talk about what has to happen, Amanda Lorenz and Kayli Kvistad have to get on base,” said Walton. “When they do that, we’re tough to beat. If I had to put one thing on that I think it has to be the top of our lineup has to be a lot more explosive.”
Along with the pressures put on the entire team to perform at a high level, there is an added weight on the shoulders of Lorenz and Kvistad after being singled out by their coach.
“I like it,” Lorenz said of the challenge. “I’m excited for it. I know that pressure is a privilege, so I’m excited. Me and Kayli take pride in doing that and I think we’re capable of it and just need to do what we do and not think too much and we’ll be just fine.”
Under the leadership of players like Lorenz, Florida lived up to and even exceeded expectations this season despite losing a great deal of both talent and leadership from last year’s team. Walton credits much of his team’s ability to constantly rise to the occasion simply on the character.
There is still a long road ahead, starting with FAMU, FIU and Oklahoma State in the regional this weekend, but Florida is built for nothing less than a strong run in post-season.
“We’re a good softball team with a lot of good players, with a lot of good character, with a lot of good people that have really formed a bond,” Walton said. “You know, you can’t always say that the 18th player and the number one player, when you’re just talking about talent, is always going to have the same type of relationship, but I think our team is a really true no type of divide kind of team … I really feel like the team has done a really good job of just embracing their roles and just being ‘everybody has a role; everybody has a part to this thing we’re trying to accomplish in post-season’. And I’ve been really impressed with that, like I said, kind of a no divide, no pecking order type of a group.”