#1 Florida Softball 2016 Preview

Florida Gators
Overall Rank: #1
Conference Rank: #1 SEC
 Florida Logo
For the Florida Gators they will be venturing into unchartered waters in 2016 as they are looking to three-peat as National Champions. After taking Michigan’s best shot in the 2015 Women’s College World Series, Florida has established themselves as the gold standard of college softball right now. Even with the loss of national player of the year Lauren Haeger to graduation, there is a senior class in place that is filled with strong leadership and a relentless commitment to excellence every day. The Gators are on the verge of creating an extended dynasty and the college softball world will be watching closely to see if Florida can finish the job and win their third straight national championship in 2016.
2015 record: 60-7, 18-5
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Tim Walton
Field Players:
The 2015 SEC Player of the Year, infielder Kelsey Stewart, will be back for her senior season in 2016 and will be looking to match or surpass her outstanding 2015 season. Stewart hit .435, collected 101 hits, drove in 41 runs and stole 26 bases in 28 attempts. She also plays at a high level defensively. Utility player Taylore Fuller is the most experienced and prolific power hitter to return in 2016 for the Gators. Fuller hit. 276, while hitting 14 homeruns and driving in 56 runs last season. Senior outfielder Kristi Merritt has just gotten better and better each year at the plate and she always plays outstanding defense. Merritt hit .325 and drove in 47 runs last season and, perhaps more importantly, only committed one error for a .987 fielding percentage.
Sophomore Aleshia Ocasio and Delanie Gourley will team up and lead the Florida pitching staff in 2016. This duo combined for a 28-5 record last season and did a fantastic job of going after hitters all season long. Ocasio only walked 25 batters, while striking out 155 batters and Gourley walked 32 batters in 79.0 innings of work. The workload will increase for both pitchers in 2016, but if they stay committed to attacking hitters and throwing strikes, the Gators should be just fine in the circle this season.
Who to Watch:
Senior catcher Aubree Munro was just named to the US National Team for the upcoming 2016 season and is back for Florida. Munro is one of the best defensive catchers in college softball as she went through the 2015 season with a 1.000 fielding percentage, which makes her only the ninth player in program history to achieve that in a season. The ability to be lights out defensively along with veteran leadership is going allow Munro to keep the Gators on an even keel throughout the season when things to get challenging. Sophomore outfielder Nicole Dewitt will also be back and was recently named to the 2016 USA Softball Women’s Elite Team. Dewitt hit .331 with two homeruns, 28 runs batted in and was flawless on defense as well, committing no errors in 78 chances last season.
Final Projection:
Florida will get to see Michigan on day two of the season down at the USF DeMarini-Wilson Tournament in what should be a highly anticipated game in the early part of the season. The rest of the non-conference schedule is loaded with opponents such as UCLA, North Carolina State, Washington, Nebraska, Utah, South Alabama, UCF, Louisiana-Lafayette and Florida State. A trip to Auburn to play the Tigers on the opening weekend of SEC play should be a classic as both teams can light up the scoreboard. The other tough road trips in SEC play will be to LSU and Texas A&M, while Tennessee and Alabama visit Gainesville.  Bottom line, the Gators are going to get every opponent’s A plus effort and they will rise to the occasion enough to get back to Oklahoma City once again for a great opportunity to win their third consecutive national championship.  
Projected Postseason:  NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Kelsey Stewart, IF, 232
Hits: Kelsey Stewart, IF, 101
Home Runs: Taylore Fuller, UTIL, 14
RBIs: Taylore Fuller, UTIL, 56
Runs: Kelsey Stewart, IF, 71
Stolen Bases: Kelsey Stewart, IF, 26
Wins: Aleshia Ocasio, P/UTIL, 18
Innings Pitched: Aleshia Ocasio, P, 136.0
Strikeouts: Aleshia Ocasio, P, 155
Saves: Delanie Gourley, P, 5
Madness 2016 Softball Recruit Rankings:
#1 Kelly Barnhill
3 Amanda Lorenz
Madness 2016 Draft Rankings:
#13 Kelsey Stewart