As spring rolls in, the Gator sports I will be keeping heavy tabs on are softball, women's lacrosse, and baseball. Each of these Gator teams have a viable chance of winning a National Championship, and I want to be there to capture each special moment every step of the way.
On February 6, 2014, the Florida Gator softball team will open up its season in Tampa. Much optimism surrounds the team as they won the SEC and advanced to the Women's College World Series with a heavily youthful bunch. This year, the Gators return an experienced squad as they seek the first National Championship in the program's history. The two players to watch will be junior first baseman Lauren Haeger and senior pitcher Hannah Rogers. Haeger led the team in home runs (18) and RBI's (70) while Rodgers won 33 games during the 2013 campaign and had the best ERA on the team (1.29) and the most strikeouts (243). Defending their SEC title will be a challenge with the likes of Tennessee, LSU, and Alabama at their heels, but the Gators are more than ready for the opportunity to prove that they have one of the most talented teams in the conference as well as the country.
Coming just three wins away from their first National Championship in program history, the Gator lacrosse team looks poised to make another run after an 18-3 record and a share of the American Lacrosse Conference title during the 2013 season. Ten seniors were lost due to graduation and now the opportunity has been put forth for someone else to step up and etch their name in Gator lacrosse lore. The 2014 lax team will be led by two seniors and is stocked full of freshmen and sophomores with some juniors sprinkled in the mix. Two key players coming back for the lax team are junior midfielders Shannon Gilroy and Nora Barry. In 2013, Gilroy scored 44 goals with seven assists and accounted for 51 total Gator points. Barry scored 40 goals and contributed eight assists to rack up a total of 48 points. Both goalkeepers (redshirt senior Cara Canington and redshirt freshman Mary-Sean Wilcox) return so the Gators will still have experience at this crucial position. Look for the Gators to make a deep run as they pursue their fourth consecutive American Lacrosse Conference title and that elusive but very attainable National Championship that has been placed before them.
Last, but certainly not least is the outlook for the 2014 Gator baseball squad. The team opens up their season on Valentine's Day with a three game series vs Maryland and they will look to get further than regional play this time around while also finishing with a record above .500. Losing only two seniors to graduation, the Gators actually have no seniors on this year's squad. Instead, it will be the junior class who will be tasked with leading the team to its National Championship this year. Among these 11 juniors is star switch hitting catcher Taylor Gushue. I actually played against Gushue during his high school years at Calvary Christian Academy, so I do not need to see film or stats to know how good of a ballplayer he is. Similar to his old high school days, Gushue was one of the offensive leaders for the Gators last year with five home runs and 33 RBI's and many will look to him to spark the offense again this year with his power. From a pitching standpoint, I cannot identify who the ace of the staff is. Regardless, the key to pitching is having a starter who can give the team five to six solid innings and then put it in the hands of the bullpen. The backend of the bullpen is especially crucial as closing out games is what championship teams do the best. From what I can tell, junior John Magliozzi looked like a solid closer with 12 saves, a 2.67 era, and 57 strikeouts (which were the second most on the team) during his sophomore campaign last year. In 2014, the Gators will also look to compete for its first SEC title since 2011. The SEC is one of the best baseball conferences in the country and it helps the Gators tremendously that they get to play elite competition day in and day out. Like the two teams mentioned before them, the baseball team has a load of talent and experience returning for the 2014 season and they should be very determined to get back in Omaha after missing out last year.
*Stats accredited to Gatorzone.com