The UF complex has been infused this semester by a jolt of collective youth and talent the likes of which the program hasn’t seen in years, all while Walton has been invigorated by what’s ahead for another passion of his, USA Softball, both in the short term and long term. And he’s in the middle of all of it.
Let’s start on the home front. For years (yes, years), Walton and the devoted UF fan base have been looking forward to this 2023-24 athletic year and the arrival of one of the most hyped freshman classes in program history. Depending on the recruiting service, pitchers Ava Brown and Keagan Rothrock, along with infielder Mia Williams have ranked anywhere from first to fourth overall in their class. They’re all here now, plus four other freshmen and a couple of marquee transfers, and from the moment these newbies set foot on campus were seen as foundational and transformational building blocks to help the Gators bounce back from the first season since 2012 to end in the NCAA regional round.
The hype, apparently, was justified.
“There’s a lot on this team I really like,” Walton said after Tuesday night’s 11-2 fall-season defeat of South Florida at Pressly Stadium. “The measurables are faster, stronger, competitive and [they] really want to win. And then there’s the work ethic. They’re doing the required and unrequired things, which is always the key. A high-achieving team does things because they want to, not because they have to.”
Fifth-year senior shortstop and reigning NFCA Player of the Year Skylar Wallace, who set a team single-season record by hitting .447 in ’23, has seen all those traits. On a recent off day, she ducked into the UF weight room for an extra lift (as first-team All Americans tend to do) only to find her freshmen teammates there, also.
“It’s like they’re holding us to a higher standard, without them even knowing it. If they’re busting their butts why aren’t the older kids busting theirs too, right?” Wallace said. “They want to be the best and have high expectations of themselves to compete and grind it out. This is not their first rodeo, even though it really is. But they don’t act like freshmen at all.”
Or talk like freshmen.
Williams., the daughter of former UF and NBA…