By Zach Abolverdi, Correspondent
When Florida softball defeated Texas A&M last year in the NCAA Softball Super Regional, the Gators were sent packing.
Not just for the trip to the 2018 Women’s College World Series, but their exit from Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
“We had to move out of all our facilities the night after we won the Super Regional,” UF coach Tim Walton said. “We had to have everything stickered, labeled and marked, ready to be moved.”
Tuesday, Walton and his team return to a refurbished home. The Gators will unveil their $15 million renovation to the softball stadium Tuesday against Japan in an exhibition game.
For the last the eight months, home for Walton has been a Pac-Van trailer near the Southwest Recreation Center Fields. The players also shared one as a locker room.
“It’s been a challenge,” he said.
Not the lack of space, that is. Walton has actually enjoyed that aspect the most.
“I really got to know the players a little bit better being in these close confines. That part has been good,” he said. “That’s what the new facility is going to be. We’re all going to be in the same area all the time.”
They could use some extra room. The players were crammed into their trailer, according to junior catcher Jordan Roberts. She had concerns about the setup at first, but called the offseason a humbling experience.
“It was crazy. I think we all had an expectation of it being kind of hectic,” Roberts said. “We were worried, I think. But it’s been such a smooth transition. If anything, it’s brought us closer together.”
Senior outfielder Amanda Lorenz, the 2018 SEC Player of the Year, also has noticed the growth in team chemistry. Lorenz said it’s the best she has ever been around.
“We’ve had no choice but to get really close, really fast. We’re in super tight quarters,” she said. “I was a little nervous coming in this summer, but it’s been the best year by far of my career. … And we haven’t even hit the fun part yet.”
The worst part of the offseason? The long walk from the parking lot to the trailers.
“We’re doing that twice, three times a day,” Walton said. “We’ve had to readjust all of our minutes in our practices and do a lot of things different than we’ve done in the past. One thing I really like is the way our players have handled the process.
“They’ve been really humble. I think they understand what lies ahead of them. It makes work a little bit easier. They’re definitely excited about moving into home sweet home.”
The full-scale renovation features a 360-degree open concourse, increased seating capacity with chair-back seats, shade structures for fans, an elevated press box, on-site office space for coaches, expanded dugouts, a larger lounge and a new locker room. There will be berms in the outfield for general-admission seating.
“We’re ready to hear Coach Walton talk about how much better it is than it used to be,” sophomore catcher Danielle Romanello said. “Looking forward to that.”
With the success of Walton’s program, the new amenities have been a long time coming. Florida pitcher Kelly Barnhill, one of five seniors on this year’s team, has no complaints about all the changes and moving parts before her final season.
“I’m just so thankful I get to play on the new field and be in the new facilities. One more year and I wouldn’t have been here,” Barnhill said. “It’s really awesome that I get to experience this with my teammates for the last go around.”
What: Home opener, an exhibition game, at renovated Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned outside the main gates at 4 p.m.
Who: Japan vs. Florida
When: 6 p.m.