Florida fifth-year seniors reflect on time with softball program as team looks forward to future

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun
The Florida Gators softball team thanks the fans Saturday after being eliminated from the NCAA tournament by Georgia at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

Katie Chronister failed to control her emotions. 

The fifth-year senior began crying almost immediately upon joining the postgame media news conference after the Florida softball team’s shocking loss to Georgia in the NCAA Super Regionals last Saturday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. 

The Gainesville native returned to her hometown school for a fifth season after taking advantage of the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to 2020 spring student-athletes because of the pandemic and pitched the best season of her career in 2021. 

She threw a career-high 73 innings, with 10 wins and a 2.40 ERA. 

But now, she (and her other two fifth-year teammates) sat helpless as UF missed out on a bid to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2016, the year before they arrived in north central Florida. 

“When reflecting back, I just think family,” Chronister said. “I wouldn’t want to end up with anyone else but the girls in the locker room. They are everything to me, and I am just blessed. I know they are going to remember this, and that’s what it is all about —carrying the legacy.” 

Chronister hurled 2 1/3 innings Saturday in relief of starter Elizabeth Hightower.  

She shut down the Bulldogs until the sixth inning when UGA played three runs to put the game on ice. As she exited the circle, Chronister didn’t think this was her last time pitching. 

“We’re the cardiac Gators with the amount of comebacks and walk-off wins we had this year,” she said. 

Despite the disheartening ending, the product of Gainesville High School is pleased she came back for a final season. 

“I’m more proud of the girls,” Chronister said. “I really appreciate they had confidence in me no matter what this season as I battled a lot this year.” 

Jaimie Hoover produced magic for the Gators for five seasons. In 2019, she sent Florida to the WCWS with an eighth inning, walk-off single to beat Tennessee. As recently as April 30, she hit a go-ahead seventh inning three-run home run to help beat Missouri. 

The left fielder created no such conjuring Saturday as she went 1-3.  

“We just couldn’t string hits together like we normally could,” Hoover said. “It sucks.” 

Kendyl Lindaman ranks as the most accomplished Gator to leave this season. The first baseman tops all active NCAA career leaders in RBIs (207) and second in home runs (62). 

Lindaman spent less donning a UF uniform than her teammates. The Iowa native transferred from Minnesota before the 2019 season after winning Big Ten Player of the Year twice as a Golden Gopher. 

“I always tell everyone it was the best decision of my life to come here,” she said. “It really does feel like I’ve been here for five years, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I really wish I had more time.” 

Coach Tim Walton has seen many players travel through the Gator program in his 15 years at the helm, but this class holds a special place. 

“I’ve gotten to know Jaimie for 10 years now, ever since she was playing for the Georgia Elite. She helped us hang a banner because of that walk-off vs. Tennessee. Kendyl worked really hard; this season probably wasn’t the one she wanted in terms of eye-popping statistics, but I thought she worked hard,” Walton said. “Same thing with Katie Chronister. To never go through a struggle before she got to Florida, and how she dealt with the adversity. I’ve seen a lot of kids quit, but she didn’t and stayed with it.” 

While Chronister, Hoover and Lindaman won’t suit up next season, they acknowledged the future shines bright at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. 

“We’re really young,” Chronister said. “I think having this kind of impact under your belt, knowing what it takes to fight, especially in postseason, will help a lot. They’re going to get better offensively. We have a good pitching staff next year, so I think they are going to continue what we started.” 

UF rebounds with its top fourth-year seniors next season, such as second baseman Hannah Adams and pitcher Natalie Lugo.