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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

No. 7: How will the softball team respond to the departure of its 2009 senior class?

The UF softball team reached new heights during the last two seasons. Behind the arm of pitcher Stacey Nelson, the Gators went a combined 133-10 in 2008 and 2009, reaching the Women's College World Series both years.

But Nelson has thrown her last pitch as a Gator. Kim Waleszonia, the school's all-time hits leader, won't be back on the field in 2010, either. Same goes for Ali Gardiner, Kristina Hilberth and the rest of the 2009 senior class.

So that presents the question: How will the softball team respond this season after losing such a talented group of seniors, especially Nelson?

Fortunately for UF coach Tim Walton, the heart of his lineup will return in 2010. Rising senior Francesca Enea will likely enter the season as one of the nation's top-rated hitters, and she will be joined by Kelsey Bruder, Megan Bush and Corrie Brooks. Those four combined for 61 home runs and 237 RBI in 2009.

Add a healthy Tiffany DeFelice, who was hampered by a wrist injury during her sophomore year after an outstanding freshman year, and the Gators likely won't face many problems they can't hit their way out of.

In addition to the returning power hitters, rising junior Aja Paculba made a smooth transition to the leadoff spot, where Waleszonia batted her first three years at UF. Paculba is one of the Gators' most versatile hitters, and her skill on the basepaths will only improve.

Despite the talented veteran core, Walton was forced by injuries to develop some of his younger players. Rising sophomores Alicia Sisco and Michelle Moultrie saw time in the outfield and at the plate last season, and they will likely find their roles significantly increased in 2010.

Although the majority of the lineup is returning and the new players gained experience in 2009, the team will be reliant upon rising junior Stephanie Brombacher in the circle this season. She was statistically one of the nation's best pitchers as a backup last season. Brombacher pushed her undefeated career record to 42-0 with 22 wins last year. She put up a 0.84 ERA and struck out 190 batters in 158.2 innings pitched.

But with the only other pitcher on the roster an incoming freshman, she will be the unquestioned No. 1 in 2010, and that could potentially be a rocky transition.

Although Brombacher's adjustment from backup to ace will take some time, the talent will still be there, and Walton has established UF as a legitimate contender.

So maybe the better question is: Can the softball team make it back to Oklahoma City for a third-straight WCWS appearance?

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