Icebox Athlete works with University of Florida Softball to win back-to-back National Championships!
The following excerpt was written by Chris Harry, senior writer with Gatorzone.com
OKLAHOMA CITY — Winning the first national championship a year ago didn’t just prepare Tim Walton and his Florida Gators for the journey and grind of chasing another.
It also was a lesson in how to celebrate one.
When the final out put a 4-1 defeat of Michigan in Game 3 of the Women’s College World Series in the books Wednesday night, the coach was ready for the aftermath and the ensuing hours (and presumably weeks) of good times ahead.
“Last year, I didn’t really soak it all in. I kind of just went right back to the work we had to do with recruits and players and the other really everyday stuff,” Walton said Thursday, as he reclined comfortably and satisfyingly in his seat on the team’s charter flight back to Gainesville. “Last year, we really didn’t know what to do. We were like, ‘OK, now what?’ But this one? This one was different.”
Knowing how tough it is to win one provided crystal-clear perspective of how difficult it is to win two.
Gators coach Tim Walton raises the national championship trophy for the second straight year. This time, he had a better understanding of how to wallow in the moment, starting with a lot of pictures.
That’s why the post-game celebration in the outfield at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium ran a little longer Wednesday night, with more hugs, more high-fives, more pictures and video. More reveling in the moment for everyone.
“Back to back!” junior catcher Aubree Munro said as she bounced from teammate to family to coach and back again after the game. “This solidifies exactly what this program is about.”
Florida was an elite program before it won its first national championship last year, having been to five WCWS the previous six years. But now two straight national crowns, the Gators joined UCLA and Arizona as the only programs in the country ever to go back to back.
That’s not elite. That’s blue blood.
“It’s hard to do,” UF athletic director Jeremy Foley beamed during the post-game raucous. “These girls came here as the No. 1 seed and with a target on their backs. Obviously, Michigan is a great team. I mean, every time I looked up on the scoreboard someone was hitting .400 with like 20 homers and 80 RBI.”
The Wolverines boasted a team average of .340 (compared to .304 for UF). They had five players with double-digit home runs (UF had three) and five with at least 50 RBI (UF had two).
What they didn’t have, of course, was Lauren Haeger.
The 2015 NCAA Player of the Year went 4-1 with a 1.18 ERA in the WCWS. Haeger’s final NCAA Tournament tournament numbers showed an 8-1 record and an unworldly 0.65 ERA.
“Every team that wins a national championship has someone like that,” Foley said. “Everything just kept falling on her shoulders and she just accepted the responsibility. Lauren Haeger has the heart of a champion.”
How’s this for context: Hannah Rogers, who steamrolled through NCAA play with a 7-0 record last year on her way to taking OKC by storm, posted an ERA of 0.64 in her run. For her dominance, Rogers was named 2014 Southeastern Conference Athlete of the Year.
But Rogers, spectacular as she was, didn’t bat.
Haeger hit .433 in the tournament (.571 at OKC) with three homers, five runs scored and seven RBI. For the season, she hit .347 with 19 homers and 71 RBI.
How hard is it be great at both?
“It’s impossible,” Walton said.
Sort of like how hard it will be to replace her. Or so it would seem.
The loss of Haeger (aka “Babe Ruth”) and senior classmate/shortstop extraordinaire Kathlyn Medina would appear to be chasm-like voids Walton will need to fill in 2016. Then again, the same was said about the exits of Rogers and sweet-swinging third baseman Stephanie Tofft a year ago.
In this orange and blue blood program, young players will develop and take another step next year as Walton looks for more — as he did with Haeger this year — from stalwarts like first-team All-America second baseman Kelsey Stewart, center fielder Kirsti Merritt, left fielder Nicole DeWitt and Munro.
“I was smiling from ear-to-ear for about 3 days” commented Icebox Athlete Spencer Wood. “I have had the privilege of working with Tim Walton’s University of Florida Gators multiple times in each season for the past 5 years now, and Tim, his staff, and his players work as hard as any team in America; they are so deserving of the success they are now enjoying. They have been to the College World Series 5 of the past 6 years, but last year was their first ever National Championship for softball at the University of Florida, and now they have repeated as back-to-back national champions. Only two programs in the entire history of the sport at the Division 1 level have ever repeated as national champions. What is perhaps just as impressive about Tim’s program is how he has built an incredible culture of toughness and talent, while also remaining remarkably humble. It is tough enough to build a program that can generate such consistent success, but tougher still to sustain that kind of success with the type of humility that his staff and players consistently carry themselves with. The program is a class act, and I could not be happier for Tim, his staff and his players!”
The entire team at Icebox Athlete join our founder Spencer Wood in congratulating the University of Florida Athletic Department and the entire Florida Gator’s Softball Program in winning their second national championship!