Thursday, December 24, 2015

2016 Gator Softball Preview

Coming off back-to-back National Championships, the Florida Gator softball team will once again have huge expectations for this season with a three-peat in reach. Only one school ever has won three straight softball national championships, and that was UCLA from 1988 to 1990. If Florida can pull off this incredibly rare feat, then the Gators and head coach Tim Walton will be immortalized forever.

The 2016 softball squad is led by five seniors: Taylor Schwarz, Taylore Fuller, Kirsti Merritt, Kelsey Stewart, and Aubree Munro. Their three years of combined postseason experience and winning two national championships are going to be huge if Florida wants to solidify its softball dynasty of the mid-2010s.

As I did in my latest article on the Gator baseball team, I am going to break down the softball team into the three categories of offense, pitching, and defense. As you should expect, a team that has won two straight championships should not be lacking in any of these departments.


The Gator lineup still retains its core of seniors, but should have a couple new faces in the mix. Here is my projected starting lineup for the 2016 Florida Gators:
  1. Kelsey Stewart- Second Base
  2. Nicole DeWitt- Left Field
  3. Kirsti Merritt- Center Field
  4. Taylore Fuller- Third Base
  5. Taylor Schwarz- First Base
  6. Justine McLean- DH
  7. Aubree Munro- Catcher
  8. Janell Wheaton- Right Field
  9. Alex Voss/Theresa Swertfager/Sophia Reynoso- Shortstop
1. Kelsey Stewart- Last year's leader in hits, batting average (.435!), stolen bases, doubles, and triples, Stewart is a huge catalyst for the Gator offense. She is a speedster who wreaks absolute havoc on the base paths and never hesitates to take an extra base if given the chance. Look for her to lead Florida in all these categories yet again in her senior season.

2. Nicole DeWitt- One of Florida's 2015 postseason heroes who sent the Gators to the WCWS Finals with her walk-off single in the semifinals, DeWitt will see an even larger role as she assumes the starting left field job for her sophomore season. She also serves as another speed threat behind Stewart, having stolen 10 bags last season.

3. Kirsti Merritt- Smacking nine homers with 47 RBI's (both second among returning players), Merritt is a consistent power threat out of the three-hole. I believe she will top both these numbers in her final season for the Orange and Blue. Another aspect of her game worth looking at as well is her speed. She stole 23 bases as a junior last year, the second most among returning players.

4. Taylore Fuller- Boasting the most home runs and RBI's among returning players (14 and 56, respectively), Fuller will assume the role as the Gators' "big hitter" this season. She has a very powerful swing and should have plenty of RBI opportunities unless Merritt brings them home first.

5. Taylor Schwarz- Sister of J.J. Schwarz (the best hitter on the Gator baseball team), Taylor has done something on this team that no other player has done. In both national championships, she recorded the final putout at first base. Having recorded the biggest out of her softball career TWICE, Schwarz brings back with her a strong sense of leadership and presence that the younger players on the team can look up to. Not to mention she also swings it pretty well at the dish too.

6. Justin McLean- Appearing in 60 games last season, McLean hit .360 with 32 hits. She is a solid bat for the middle of the order and her 15 hit by pitches are the third most among returning players. She has .406 on base percentage and knows how to use her legs when she gets on base as she stole 10 bases last year.

7. Aubree Munro- Holding down the bottom of the lineup, Munro is definitely a better defender than hitter. However, she (like Schwarz) has an intangible leadership quality within her. One of the team leaders in sacrifice bunts last year (with 10), Munro will be crucial in moving runners over and helping turn the lineup over back to the top.

8. Janell Wheaton- Playing first base when she does not DH, Wheaton is a contact hitter who can put it out of the yard every now and then. Appearing in just 38 games as a true freshman in 2015, look for this total to increase slightly as she may split time with Kayli Kvistad in the DH role.

9. Alex Voss/Theresa Swertfager/Sophia Reynoso- All of these girls are new additions to the Gator softball program this year. I honestly could not find anyone among the returners who I think could fill the shortstop role, so I believe that one of these true freshmen will step up and win the job. For all I know, they could all play the position at some point!


In 2014, it was Hannah Rogers. In 2015 it was Lauren Haeger. Now in 2016, who is it going to be? Here is my projected pitching rotation for the 2016 Gators:

  1. Aleshia Ocasio
  2. Delanie Gourley
  3. Kelly Barnhill
1. Aleshia Ocasio- Appearing in 30 games as a true freshman last year, Ocasio went 18-3 with 155 strikeouts and a 2.58 ERA. She pitched in Game 1 of the Women's College World Series Finals, so she knows how the pressure of the postseason feels. Going forward in 2016 she is going to be the ace for Florida and should win at least 25 games this season.

2. Delanie Gourley- A two-time champion who has known nothing but winning since her freshman year, Gourley is usually more of a relief pitcher than a starter. If she is called to start though, she will get the job done as she went 10-2 in the 12 games she started in 2015. She saved five games, which makes her liable to be the Gator closer if the situation arose, and she also posted an ERA of 2.73 with 105 strikeouts.

3. Kelly Barnhill- A true freshman this upcoming season, Barnhill was a beast pitcher in high school and travel ball! She threw 22 no-hitters (my goodness) and in a perfect game struck out all 21 batters! You have got to be kidding me. That is absolutely incredible. But wait, there is more! She holds the single-season Georgia state record for strikeouts with 534 and holds numerous player of the year and high school All-American honors. This girl has the making of the next great Gator ace, and it will be fun watching her develop in what time I have left at the University of Florida.


Florida's defense has been incredible based off the obvious fact that they have won it all these last two seasons. To achieve the heralded three-peat, no doubtably will the Gator defense again have to be crisp and clean.

Let's take a gander at the total number of errors committed by the 2016 projected lineup and the pitching staff:

  1. Kelsey Stewart- 6
  2. Nicole DeWitt- 0
  3. Kirsti Merritt- 1
  4. Taylore Fuller- 8
  5. Taylor Schwarz- 2
  6. Justin McLean- 0
  7. Aubree Munro- 0
  8. Janell Wheaton- 1
  9. Alex Voss/Theresa Swertfager/Sophia Reynoso- 0
  1. Aleshia Ocasio- 4
  2. Delanie Gourley- 2
  3. Kelly Barnhill- 0
That is a grand total of 25 errors for the two-time defending champions. As it looks right now, the Gator defense in 2016 will once again be on-point and should finish Top-10 in the country.

2016 Schedule

Here is the Florida Gators' schedule for this upcoming season!


USF Tournament (12th-14th)
12th: @Illinois State
13th: @Michigan
14th: @Virginia Tech
14th: @USF
17th: Jacksonville
17th: Jacksonville

Diamond 9 Tournament
19th: @UAB
19th: @Stephen F. Austin
20th: @Omaha
20th: @Elon
21st: @Jacksonville State

Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic
25th: @UCLA
25th: @NC State
26th: @Washington
26th: @Nebraska
27th: @Utah


UF Invitational (3rd-6th)
3rd: Illinois State
4th: FIU
5th: South Alabama
5th: FIU
6th: Illinois State
6th: Florida A&M
9th: South Dakota
9th: South Dakota
12th: @Auburn*
13th: @Auburn*
14th: @Auburn*
16th: Winthrop
18th: Tennessee*
19th: Tennessee*
20th: Tennessee*
25th: @LSU*
25th: @LSU*
26th: @LSU*

1st: Alabama*
2nd: Alabama*
3rd: Alabama*
6th: @UCF
8th: @Ole Miss*
9th: @Ole Miss*
10th: @Ole Miss*
13th: FSU
16th: UL-Lafayette
16th: UL-Lafayette
17th: UL-Lafayette
20th: USF
22nd: Mississippi State*
23rd: Mississippi State*
24th: Mississippi State*
29th: @Texas A&M*
30th: @Texas A&M*

1st: @Texas A&M*
4th: @FSU
6th: Arkansas*
7th: Arkansas*
8th: Arkansas*

*Denotes SEC game
Home games in bold

Final Takeaway:
The Florida Gator softball team is in a prime position for the second ever three-peat in NCAA D-1 softball history. The team is stocked full of veteran players who know how to get it done on the biggest of stages. Florida is going to meet some stiff competition in SEC play this year and it is a possibility that the Gators may not even win the conference regular season or tournament titles in 2016.

When May arrives, however, the sky is the limit for this team! Florida is going to return to Oklahoma City and it is there where they will have their date with destiny. It will be a great season to watch and I wish Florida the best of luck as they chase history! Go Gators!

*All stats accredited to

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