Florida softball coach Tim Walton has had it made since the moment he arrived in Gainesville.
After leading a relatively unknown Wichita State program to a school-record 46-win season and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2005, the skipper took his talents to Florida.
In 2008 – just his third season as head coach – Walton led the Gators to a record season of their own, tallying 70 wins and advancing to the semifinals in the program’s first-ever Women’s College World Series appearance.
Since then, only two teams during Walton’s tenure have failed to reach the WCWS. Back-to-back national championships in 2014-15 cemented his legacy as the most successful softball coach in school history and turned Florida into a recruiting leviathan.
It was during the latter championship season when Walton scored the two most touted recruits of his career.
Amanda Lorenz signed first, followed by Kelly Barnhill’s decision a few weeks later. Both were treasured prospects; Lorenz, of Moorpark, California, verbally committed to the program as an eighth grader before maturing into the nation’s top overall prospect in the 2015 class, while Barnhill, a native of Georgia and the top pitching prospect in her class, debated Stanford and Florida before making the decision to don orange and blue.
Three months after winning a second-consecutive national championship, Florida was once again in the conversation as one of college softball’s best teams, and Lorenz and Barnhill were instantly cast as the future of the program.
Lorenz became the undisputed leader on offense from the start, batting .400 for the Gators in her freshman year while starting every game. In the circle, Barnhill went 15-1 with a 1.37 ERA.
For Walton, it was a dream come true, his recruiting intuition becoming reality. His teams racked up three SEC championships and advanced to three WCWS with his star pair, including a memorable runner-up finish in 2017 to Oklahoma.
In the 2019 National Pro Fastpitch Draft this past April, it was Barnhill who was drafted first, followed by Lorenz second. The pair were the highest drafted players in program history.
In their Florida careers, the duo accumulated dozens of national accolades and recognitions, and ascended to true superstardom in their sport. In their absence, Florida now has numerous questions left unanswered.
Lorenz was an offensive juggernaut, but her teammates did little to help, and the Gators had an SEC-worst batting average last season.
Barnhill was nothing short of brilliant for most of last year’s postseason – where she started nearly every game – yet the younger pitchers on the roster – Elizabeth Hightower, Natalie Lugo and Katie Chronister – never truly faced adversity rivaling playoff intensity.
Walton is a veteran, equally enthusiastic and stern, the type of coach to lure recruits with his natural charisma, let alone his record to show. It’s why his teams have been so historically stacked.
But without the two most prolific players to ever come through The Swamp – the pride and joy of his recruiting career – he faces his biggest challenge yet come spring.
Follow Jack Braverman on Twitter @jack_braverman and contact him at [email protected].