Florida softball reunion: Former Gator returns to Gainesville as Mercer coach

Ainslie Lee
Gator Sports

Lindsay Norfleet was a senior on the University of Florida's softball team whenTim Walton arrived in Gainesville in 2006, replacing the recently fired Karen Johns as coach of the Gators. 

As soon as the young gun, who was hired away from Wichita State, stepped foot on campus, there was a monumental shift within the program, said Norfleet, now Lindsay Fico, who's the coach at Mercer. The Bears are playing in Gainesville this weekend. 

When Walton arrived at UF, instead of having a coach who hoped the team did well, the Gators had a coach who expected them to do well. Much of that started in practice, where Fico says Walton's attention to detail helped bolster the program to new heights. 

"Coach Walton had an eye that was so accurate that he could call it when you were about to make an error at practice on a ground ball," Fico said. "And he used to make this noise with his tongue... and you knew the minute you heard that noise you had taken the wrong step... He sees things before most."

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How Tim Walton helped Lindsay Fico in her coaching career

Florida's Lindsay Norfleet catches a throw to second base during a doubleheader against Georgia at Florida Softball Stadium in April 2006. Now Lindsay Fico, she's back in Gainesville as the coach of Mercer.

Evidently, that also applies to seeing the potential of young softball coaches. 

After graduating from UF, Fico went on to coach softball. 

First it was private lessons, then it was travel ball with Gainesville's Santa Fe Inferno, followed by earning her first college coaching gig with Santa Fe College, where she coached the Saints for three seasons in Gainesville. 

When the head coaching job at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, became vacant in 2021, Fico applied, and Walton was one of her references. 

"When Mercer called me and had a list of about 20 people, they didn't have her on the list," Walton recalls. 

If Mercer's hiring committee was on the clay of the softball field, it would hear Walton making that noise with his tongue. In Walton's opinion, Mercer was on its way to committing an error. 

"I said this is a person you need to look at," Walton told Mercer. "She's going to be a great person, and at some point in time, she's going to do a great job." 

In brutal honesty — something Fico says she admires most about the Gators' skipper — Walton told Fico she didn't initially make Mercer's short list. But that didn't stop Walton from lobbying on behalf of the former Gator, who went on to be hired by the Bears in June 2021. 

"For him to do that and to think that highly of me and to think that after three years at Santa Fe, some young coach that coached more travel ball than she coached college ball deserves a shot to make that jump," Fico said. "I know that that's not normal."

Player and coach set to reunite 

In Florida softball's last regular-season homestand of the season, the Gators (38-14) are set to welcome Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast for doubleheaders Friday and Saturday. UF is coming off a tough 2-1 loss to Florida State on Wednesday night. 

"It's both a little nerve-wracking and comforting all at the same time that I will be in the other dugout against coach Walton," Fico said. "I joked with his wife Sam to tell him to take it easy on me."

But Fico knows that's not Walton's style. 

In Fico's first season at Santa Fe, the Saints and Gators lined up for an exhibition game at the college while Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium was under renovations. 

When Fico saw three-time All-American Kelly Barnhill, who holds the record for strikeouts at UF, warming up, she knew she was in for a long day. Walton went on to pitch Barnhill for five innings that day. 

"The great thing about Walton is that he's a true competitor," Fico said. "And I do think one of the best compliments that you can give somebody is to compete at the highest level that you can when you play against them."

Fico's first year at Mercer hasn't been trouble-free. The Bears hold a record of 15-35 coming into Gainesville. But Walton will be the first to stand behind his endorsement of Fico. 

"She's exactly what you'd want in a coach," Walton said. "She's going to recruit good people. She's going to work hard. I like everything about her."

Weekend games 

Walton and the Gators are looking to bounce back this weekend and will take on Fico and the Bears on Friday night at 5, followed by a 2:30 p.m. game on Saturday. Florida also hosts Florida Gulf Coast (16-31) on the same days, with games at 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday. 

All the games are available on live stream at SEC Network+ and ESPN Plus. Both Mercer games and the noon game Saturday vs. FGCU are on the radio in Gainesville on AM-850, 98.1-FM.