Toftt wrapping up two-year career at dream school
Published: Friday, May 23, 2014 at 5:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 23, 2014 at 5:43 p.m.
There are certain positions that are just plain difficult. Cornerback in football, point guard in basketball and third base in college softball.
Saturday: Washington (36-13) at Florida (48-11), 1 p.m., ESPNU
Sunday: Washington at Florida, noon, ESPN
x-Sunday: Washington at Florida, 3 p.m., ESPN
(Best-of-3; x-if necessary)
“It’s a hard position,” Florida softball coach Tim Walton said. “You have to have guts to play the position.”
Third base is more than a hot corner for softball. Third baseman generally play just feet from the batter and have to have quick reactions. Any hesitation puts a runner on first. You have to watch for the bunt while knowing that a line drive could be slapped at any point at your head.
It’s a position that fits Stephanie Tofft. Even if she had never played it before coming to Florida two seasons ago.
Tofft had played just about everywhere in high school and at Northern Illinois for two seasons. Everywhere but third.
But Florida needed her there. And she has responded to be a two-year starter and one of the keys to the Gator team that begins Super Regional play Saturday against Washington.
Walton doesn’t take a lot of transfers in his program. When he does, it’s because of need.
It would be easy to make the connection to the end of the 2012 season as the reason Tofft is in Gainesville. Walton dismissed three players prior to the regional that year.
But in truth, he was already looking at Tofft, who had decided to leave Northern Illinois.
“I was already researching her before the situation,” Walton said. “I just wasn’t sure if we could afford her (with a scholarship).”
But with three players gone, the spot opened up. And Tofft said it was a dream come true.
“The first summer I was here, I couldn’t believe I was at Florida,” she said. “To play postseason softball at a place like this is unbelievable.”
When Tofft decided to leave Northern Illinois, she sent letters to so many schools she can’t remember. Florida was one of them.
“It was a dream list,” she said. “I’d grown up watching Florida play on TV and thought it would be so cool to play somewhere like that.”
All she did as a junior was lead the team in the postseason with a .400 batting average. This year, she is second on the team in batting with a .345 average with 10 homers and 57 RBIs. She has started all 59 games this season.
It wasn’t always easy. She moved 2,000 miles from Lincoln, Calif., to play at NIU, then added another 1,000 miles to her homesickness by coming to Gainesville.
“Skype helped a lot,” she said.
There were moments of trepidation when she decided to transfer. Despite a stellar career at NIU, Tofft wondered if she was shooting too high by including places like Florida on her list.
“I didn’t know if anyone was going to pick me up,” she said. “It was very scary. I was nervous. I’d never transferred before. I didn’t know if anyone would want me to play with them.”
Walton did his due diligence, checking out her social media and checking with coaches before offering Tofft a chance to come to Florida.
Today, he is more than happy he did.
“The surprising thing is how hard she competes and practices,” Walton said. “She has a motor that goes every day. For her to be where she is at third base is very impressive.
“She’s been so reliable and she’s been so clutch. The consistency personality-wise is what we’ll remember.”
It’s almost over. This weekend will be her last games playing in Gainesville. It feels like they have flown by like a summer wind. That’s the way it often is for transfers. You get where you want to be and just like that it’s over.
“Just thinking about it makes my gut tighten up a little bit,” she said. “Knowing it’s my last home games is a little emotional. If I could have played four years here with these coaches and these players … I love it here.”
Like all of the Florida players, she hopes there is more softball after this weekend. Because no matter how difficult it is to play third base at this level, Stephanie Tofft has embraced every minute of it.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
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