The college softball season is mere days away. The Florida Gators will travel to Tampa to compete in the USF-Fairfield Inn and Suites Tampa North tournament this weekend.
The first game on the team’s agenda is at 6:15 p.m. on Friday against Long Island. They’ll then play at 8:30 p.m. against Florida Gulf Coast and the rest of the weekend will feature games against Maine and Illinois State on Saturday, and then tournament-host South Florida on Sunday.
For the seven freshmen on the No. 2/4 Gators’ roster, this will be their first experience playing in a collegiate tournament. Rookie pitcher Alyssa Bache is fired up about this tournament in particular because she’ll be playing close to home.
“I’m feeling good, I’m excited,” Bache said. “It’s also near where I live, the Tampa/Clearwater area. So I’m very excited to see who comes out and to play with the team. It’s going to be a really exciting moment for me and the whole team because we really want to do well this year.”
This weekend will commence a long campaign lined up for the young Florida team. Bache and fellow freshmen Lauren Haeger both said they realize it’s going to be a big adjustment from high school ball.
“I think everyone’s told us that it’s a long season,” Bache said. “Just because we’re such a young team, the upper classmen and even the sophomores have been telling us how long it is and we need to prepare ourselves and not to over-think the season.”
“The upper classmen and the sophomores have really got our backs with everything,” Haeger added. “They’ve really mentored us a lot during the fall because we are so young and there are so many of us. They told us it’s a long season so we’re trying to get mentally prepared for that.”
One of those upperclassmen handing down their advice to the newcomers is lone senior Michelle Moultrie. Although she’s known to be somewhat quiet and tends to lead more by example, both freshmen agree Moultrie is the player they look up to the most.
“She’s always there for you, no matter what,” Bache said. “She helps you even when you’re having a horrible day. She’ll pick you up and make you do so much better. She’s just there for everybody on the team, not just one person. She’s the one I can count on to make me feel better and make me work harder.”
”She’s been here the longest,” Haeger added. “No matter what she tells you to do, you do it. You have so much respect for a person like Michelle.”
Because of her senior status, Moultrie is automatically looked at as the team’s leader. However, she’ll tell you she’s only one of several leaders on the Gators’ squad.
“I try but it’s really hard for me to be outgoing and stuff. I think our leadership is spread throughout our team. I think that’s good, it’s not always one person or people who are the oldest are the leaders. I think it’s good that our team is really well-rounded.”
One of those leaders comes in the form of sophomore pitcher Hannah Rogers. Last season, Rogers pitched behind then senior Stephanie Brombacher. Rogers said she’s looking forward to having two other pitchers on the team in Bache and Haeger because they bring different dimensions to the mound.
“It’s going to be great this year because it’s tough being able to go through the season like when Stephanie was hurt be able to do it all by yourself,” Rogers said. “As long as we all stay healthy I feel like we’re going to be unbeatable.”
With a long season in front of them, the Gators plan to focus on one game at a time. However, there is one thing that’s in the back of each player’s mind – the College World Series.
After getting a taste of the championship matchup last year, Rogers had one thing to say:
“We want it really bad.”
Gator Country reporter Darby Underwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/DarbyUnderwood.