There was a point were this story almost didn’t get written.
The Florida Gators softball team won the 2015 Women’s College World Series on Wednesday June 3, 2015.
They returned home to a national championship celebration on Thursday June 4 and the sports world (at least as it’s confined to Gainesville, Florida) picked up exceptionally the next morning.
With recruiting camps to cover, and baseball facing off in the Super-Regionals and every other day-to-day activity that pops up, the timeliness of this story allowed me to push it to the back burner again and again. Knowing that fans would be celebrating and therefore reading about the Gators back to back championships for a few days, I wasn’t worried about rolling this out right away, and as things do, the days piled up until it almost seemed unnecessary to even write it anymore.
But there was a little girl who kept running through my mind and she unknowingly demanded that someone take note of that night; the night that the Florida softball team was welcomed home with open arms and cheers as Lauren Haeger and teammates hauled not one, but two national championship trophies to Haeger’s sacred spot on the pitchers mound.
Each player that spoke was given a standing ovation and kind words from head coach Tim Walton brought flowing tears from senior shortstop Katie Medina.
Even Walton himself almost lost it during his tribute to Medina.
“Gosh I almost got emotional there and I’m probably the least emotional person on the staff”, Walton admitted later.
“When I recruited her, we knew that she was going to have some offensive issues. But she’s going to take away a lot more runs than she’s going to give up…she’s meant so much to our program, just a rock at short stop. I don’t know how we’re going to replace her to be honest with you. We’ve got good players, but none of the caliber and leadership of her…Even though we’ve got great players, nobody is going to be Katie Medina.”
Everyone looked a little tired but with good reason. Senior pitcher and National Player of the Year Lauren Haeger said that the team didn’t get to bed until around 5 a.m. because they were celebrating but it was worth it because, “I’ll never get to relive that night again so it was a great time.”
But back in front of fans, the players caught a second wind. Children and adults alike lined up all over the outfield for near an hour just to get autographs and pictures.
Tim Walton broke out of the line long enough in order to brag to local media about his team and all they’ve accomplished. And for the man who allowed himself less than an hour to revel in the 2014 national championship, 2015 brought about much more relaxed celebration as he joined in on the fun because “there’s something to be said for doing it twice.”
A large part of the Gators “doing it twice” is thanks to the senior class. Made up of girls from all over the country, this class came together to push a team to their first national championship and then lead them to another. Walton took a walk down memory lane, recalling his first memories of the seniors.
“I can think of Brianna Little coming to camp, a young kid hitting balls off the top of the scoreboard. And I think of watching Jess Damico in a high school track meet. And I think of Lauren Haeger in Arizona and I saw her play in Kentucky…” and on and on he went. It was during these flashbacks that the little girl caught me eye. She was running the bases with a number of other kids, but it was obvious it was more than just a sugar high; she was preparing for a future.
And with each fork in memory lane that Tim Walton came across, it became easier to imagine this little girl becoming one. Maybe even that day, just a few minutes later, Walton would turn around and see her and take a mental snapshot of the moment so he could recall the story to reporters years later when she was apart of the Florida Gators softball team. Around and around the bases she went, gaining steam with each pass.
The bulk of the crowd began to move at this point, following the team as they made their way to the outfield wall. It had been newly updated to reflect the newest national championship. Most eyes were on those 20 young women who had successfully built a strong foundation for a lasting program.
But there was one little girl who had her eyes facing the other way as she barreled from second to third, not distracted by the team going to revel in their current accomplishment, only passing them as she rounded third and headed home, chasing her own future.