Kelly Barnhill

As a sophomore, pitcher Kelly Barnhill recorded the lowest ERA in the country (0.51) and the most strikeouts per seven innings (13). Her efforts earned her multiple national awards. 

It’s just over a week until the start of the Florida softball team’s season, but if you walk up to the pool at the O’Connell Center, you just might find UF pitcher Kelly Barnhill doing laps.

This is not regular exercise for a softball player, but it is one of the things the junior is doing to get better.

Actually, it’s one of 13 things.

“She sat down in my office, and I had a list of about 12 things I needed for her to do in order for her to continue to make strides as a player this year,” Florida coach Tim Walton said. “Kelly had 13 things, all of my 12, plus one.”

The items covered in Barnhill’s list range anywhere from tinkering with her habits and her mentality in the bullpen to changing her diet and exercise.

This all comes after a career season for her, where she won an ESPY and led the Gators to the Women’s College World Series Finals.

But the piercing pain of defeat has motivated Barnhill and her teammates to focus on improving in the offseason, and it took Barnhill to places like Irvine, California, where she competed with the USA Softball Women’s National Team in June.

“Personally, and for the team, it was a really big disappointment,” Barnhill said. “Losing that national championship game was a feeling that I never want to feel again.”

Now, with a fresh season ahead of it, the UF softball team — led by Barnhill and a quartet of seniors — is antsy to stop scrimmaging and to get back into the swing of playing and winning ball games.

The work ethic the upperclassmen emphasized this offseason makes 2018 a highly anticipated year for the Gators, who eye a return to Women’s College World Series Finals.

And for coach Walton, he doesn’t mind his players already thinking about Oklahoma City.

“I don’t mind the thinking too far ahead,” Walton said. “I like them to have vision and have dreams, but the dreams have to be matched with everyday process and work ethic.”

Walton said that he thinks the dream of returning to the Women’s College World Series is what motivates his players to get up for early-morning practice.

Barnhill and the pitching staff have also employed their own motivational tactics to get the season started.

“Right now, we’re working on sort a bullpen mantra,” Barnhill said. “We’ll keep you updated on that. We don’t have that yet.”

Follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr and contact him at [email protected]

Mark Stine is sports editor for the Independent Florida Alligator. He's a senior at UF and has written softball, women's soccer, men's tennis and cross country in the past.