Four star seniors return to lead No. 2 UF softball team

UF's Kayli Kvistad gets high-fives from teammates after grabbing the ball out of the air for the third out in the top of the third inning against Oklahoma State at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium last May 21. The Gators lost the first game 1-0 and won the second game 5-0 to advance to Super Regionals. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

The star pitcher is a junior and the star hitter is in the same class.

But for Florida softball 2018, this is the seniors’ team.

Call then the Fab Four — Nicole DeWitt, Aleshia Ocasio, Janell Wheaton and Kayli Kvistad.

Four starters. Four leaders. Four young ladies who have seen in all.

“We have experienced every stage you can end your season on,” said Wheaton. “Hopefully this one ends on the right note.”

As freshmen, they were part of Florida’s second straight national title. As sophomores, they experienced the numbing finish of a walk-off loss on their home field in a Super Regional against Georgia.

And last year, they made the championship series only to lose in two epic games against Oklahoma.

“We’ve definitely had our ups and downs as a class,” DeWitt said.

Now this, their senior seasons on a team ranked second in the preseason.

“Sitting here thinking about that, I’m a pretty visual thinker and I started to think about it and started getting chills,” said Florida coach Tim Walton. “They are such great leaders. They’ve won a national championship. They only know what it’s like to win SEC championships, three-for-three.”

Their roles will change some. DeWitt, who was a second baseman through most of her career, will switch to her old high school position at third. Ocasio will be elevated to the No. 2 pitcher behind Barnhill, the ace of the staff, but will be in the lineup as an outfielder when she doesn’t pitch.

“I’m looking for her to play a huge role in our success,” Walton said. “If we have a great year it will be because she will have a great year.”

Wheaton is back behind the plate and Kvistad will continue her role as first baseman and power hitter.

But what will change more than anything is that they will be the ones counted on to be the leaders of a team with high expectations.

“It’s gone by really fast but being a senior you have to kind of like take the lead now,” Ocasio said. “You were once a freshman and you followed someone.

“Now you have to pave the way.”

On Media Day for the softball team, Walton said Wednesday he is confident that his four seniors will pave that way and help a talented group of freshmen.

“They’re all so different but they have the same goal and that is to win,” Walton said. “It’s a lot easier to coach when you have four seniors who know how to do it the right way.

“I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know them. I’ve known all but Ocasio for seven years and to go from a high school stars to being household names has been great and they are in household names in softball circles.”

The start of the season is still weeks away (Feb. 9 at a tournament in Tampa), but the goal remains the same.

“It’s a long season and you have to take it step by step,” DeWitt said. “But the goal is always to get to Oklahoma City (and the Women’s College World Series.)”

For the four seniors in their fourth seasons, anything less would be unthinkable.