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Sunday, June 23, 2024

OKLAHOMA CITY &ndash Replacing the most storied senior class in UF softball history certainly won't be easy for coach Tim Walton and the 13 other players on this year's team.

But due to injuries, a wealth of talent and a few points this season where Walton ran out a team without a senior on the field, the future is still bright for the Gators.

"The program itself will go forward," Walton said. "Hopefully we'll be able to get enough good character and enough good players that will continue to build what we're building."

The lineup will definitely look different without Ali Gardiner anchoring the infield at first, Kristina Hilberth behind the plate, Kim Waleszonia in center field or Stacey Nelson in the circle, but UF has enough young talent to remain competitive on the national scene next year and possibly make its third straight trip to the Women's College World Series.

The biggest change will be that of Stephanie Brombacher from reliable backup pitcher to everyday starter. The sophomore is still undefeated at UF and will face the tall order of replacing Nelson, the most decorated player in program history, and going up against other teams' best pitchers.

Tiffany DeFelice will take over for Hilberth behind the plate to catch for Brombacher, her teammate since high school.

"Hopefully we develop Stephanie and we'll be able to pass the torch to her," Walton said. "We'll get Tiffany behind the plate a little bit more next year to help fill the void, too."

Freshmen Michelle Moultrie, Tuesday night's starting center fielder, and Alicia Sisco saw time in the outfield this year with Waleszonia out for the majority of the season with a fractured knee, and both will likely start next season.

"I think we've developed Michelle Moultrie into at least being able to provide a lift," Walton said. "Alicia Sisco could play on any team in the country but just couldn't find a way into this lineup."

Kelsey Bruder, a natural infielder who moved to first base on the rare occasion that Gardiner was off the field, should make the move to first a permanent one, freeing up right field for Sisco.

The rest of the field should remain intact with Aja Paculba at second, Megan Bush at shortstop, Corrie Brooks at third and Francesca Enea in left field.

The speed of Moultrie and Sisco will complement Paculba batting leadoff, the versatility of DeFelice and the dangerous power hitters remaining in the lineup: Enea, Bruder, Bush and Brooks. With the core of their lineup remaining in Gainesville, the Gators will continue to be a force at the plate.

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UF will also add five freshmen: Ensley Gammel, a pitcher from Bakersfield, Calif.; Samantha Holle, an infielder from Tampa; Kelsey Horton, a catcher from Valrico; Brittany Schutte, a utility player from Fountain Valley, Calif.; and Brittany Walker, an infielder from Tomball, Texas.

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