College softball is upon us, and it feels like it’s been eternity since the Florida Gators won a national championship in softball. After winning back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015, they’ve only gone back to the Women’s College World Series title series once since — they lost to Oklahoma in 2017 — and are probably eager to get back to Oklahoma City.
The Florida State Seminoles are the reigning champs, and the Gators would undoubtedly love to dethrone them. But beside that narrative, this Tim Walton-led UF softball team will be special for a bunch of reasons this year.
Here are the four biggest reasons why you need to watch the Gators in 2019:
1. New Stadium
OK, it’s still technically Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, and it’s still in the same location. But this stadium might as well be brand spankin’ new after its recent renovations.
The $15 million additions to UF’s stadium include a much-deserved and completely new elevated press box, shade structures for fans, and increased capacity.
Considering the previous cramped press box could barely accommodate 10 media members, Sunday noon games were hot enough to melt your scalp while standing because there were no more seats left, these changes are massive.
I’m scratching my head wondering why a program with Florida’s success didn’t have all of this sooner.
2. Kelly Barnhill
You guys remember pitching legends Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott? Yeah, you could argue Barnhill is right there with them.
She pairs her signature face mask with a powerful windup that produces a mean fastball. Barnhill’s 0.92 career ERA and 11.5 strikeouts per seven innings are the best of any active softball player.
UF’s senior ace is off to another hot start already and could be pitching her way into the 2020 Olympics this season. Make sure you witness her greatness before she’s gone.
3. Star Transfers
Tim Walton’s ability to recruit and keep Florida the powerhouse that it is extends beyond the high school ranks.
His latest college transfers — catcher Kendyl Lindaman and outfielder Jade Caraway — were both record-setters at the their previous programs.
Lindaman set numerous marks as one of the most dynamic power hitters in the country while at Minnesota. All I really need to say is she’s hit 40 home runs in just two seasons, which ranks seventh among active players, and she still has two more years left. That’ll work.
Originally from Winter Garden, Florida, Caraway starred at NC State for two years before transferring. She set the program’s single-season batting average record as a freshman and features an element of speed and base-stealing the Gators could use.
Props to Walton.
4. The Rivalries
What good are sports without heated rivalries?
Florida has plenty of them. For starters, there’s No. 1 Florida State, which is defending its national title from last year. Then inside the top-10 there’s three more — No. 6 Tennessee, No. 8 LSU, and No. 10 Georgia.
The Gators play all of those teams except the Bulldogs this season, but there’s a good chance the two meet up in the SEC Tournament or NCAA Tournament.