Janell Wheaton

Catcher Janell Wheaton, a native of San Dimas, California, is batting .281 for the season. 

Alligator File Photo

Gators catcher Janell Wheaton is stoked.

She and the rest of Florida’s softball team traveled 2,388 miles from Gainesville to Fullerton, California, on Tuesday.

There, Wheaton — along with teammates Natalie Lugo, Jordan Matthews, Sophia Reynoso, Amanda Lorenz and Nicole DeWitt — are that much closer to where they call home.

The Judi Garman Classic, played just 26 miles from the surrounding Los Angeles area where most of those six California natives are from, holds a special place in their hearts.

Tonight, they will get to play in front of family and friends when UF (16-1) takes on Loyola Marymount (7-6-1) and Cal State Fullerton (6-8) in a doubleheader starting at 5:30 to kick off the weekend tournament.

On Wednesday afternoon, coach Tim Walton gave the six Californians time to spend with their loved ones before after practice.  

Wheaton, a San Dimas native, couldn’t wait to get there.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “It’s my favorite week of the whole season. We’re 20 minutes south of my house, so everyone will be there.”

The senior has come to realize the significance of this tournament over the years. She emphasized the importance of appreciating the opportunity to Lugo and Matthews, both freshmen on their first trip to California as Gators.

“A lot of people aren’t able to do that,” Wheaton said of the cross-country trip. “Coach Walton does such a great job with us, letting us have time with our families.”

It isn’t just about the families for Walton.

He said it also gives him a chance to scout potential recruits and compete in an area populated with “California Gators.”

“We get a lot of fans that come out and watch us, so it’ll be exciting and we’re looking forward to the opportunity,” Walton said.

The excitement for this tournament from non-Californians hasn’t gone unnoticed either.

Pitcher Kelly Barnhill has had the event in the back of her mind for a long time.

“It’s one of the highlights of their year,” she said. “Going out and playing in front of their friends and family and just being able to see it because just being that far away is difficult sometimes.”

Coming off a successful past weekend at the Aquafina Invitational, the Gators are feeling confident heading into California.

Walton recorded his 800th career win on Friday against Maryland, while Barnhill and outfielder Amanda Lorenz received a pair of conference honors on Monday.

Barnhill was named SEC Co-Pitcher of the Week after throwing a perfect game against Georgia Southern to close out the Invitational on Sunday. Lorenz was named SEC Player of the Week after batting .455 and recording 10 hits, scoring on 12 runs over the seven-day span.

“We had a great weekend,” Barnhill said in a release. “We were hitting the ball left and right and our defense made some great plays.”

Follow Mari Faiello on Twitter @faiello_mari and contact her at [email protected].

Mari Faiello is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida's softball team. She has previously covered UF men's tennis, UF women's tennis and UF volleyball. She has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.