Gators Will Have New Look This Spring

After losing its most successful senior class in school history, the Gators aren't expected to take much of a step back. Florida will feature new starters at five positions in the field, but there is still plenty of talent remaining on the team, as the Gators were voted No. 2 and No. 4 in the two preseason polls that are out. Expectations are the same but the team will look different.

Florida didn't just lose statistics, even though there are plenty of those. The Gators lost 63 of their 124 (50.1%) home runs and 238 of the team's 479 (49.7%) RBIs from last season. Megan Bush leaves Gainesville with the school record for home runs in a career. Kelsey Bruder is gone after winning the Honda Sports Award, given to the top softball player in the country.

The losses of second baseman Aja Paculba (.338, 16 HR, 62 RBI) and catcher Tiffany DeFelice (.271, 7, 25) will also be tough to replace.

It isn't all about the numbers. The 2011 senior class was looked at as the leaders of the team, even before they were the upperclassmen. Head coach Tim Walton never had trouble defining who his leaders were, and he doesn't think that'll be much of an issue this year either.

Center fielder Michelle Moultrie is the only senior on the team, but she quieter than most of her teammates.

Sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle has emerged as the "clear" vocal leader of the team.

"She's someone that has ‘the game' mentality," Walton said. "It's more about keeping her positive in regards to her own self – she's her own biggest critic. Brittany (Schutte) and Michelle are doing a great job. They come to practice, they work hard and do their thing.

"We're very fortunate to have had Michelle play with Team USA in the summer and through the fall. She's really brought back a different edge verbally. She's taken on and embraced that senior leadership role that she hasn't had the last three years – she didn't have to – now she's really stepped into that role."

That doesn't mean Moultrie isn't respected by her teammates. The senior hit .443 last season with a .519 on-base percentage and a team-high 31 bases.

"She has it," Walton said. "You can have it and not get it done to the magnitude of what Kelsey Bruder was able to do. Michelle has it – she has the name now, she has the reputation, she's done it on the biggest stages. She has all the potential Kelsey had. The only disadvantage is Michelle won't drive in as many runs as Kelsey because she bats in a different position, but she definitely has it."

Moultrie believes the team is buying into the "team-first" concept, centered around Coyle's leadership abilities. For a team with eight freshmen, leadership could be the most important aspect of the group.

"Right now with the freshmen, we're not focusing on any other teams, the rankings or anything else," Moultrie said. "We're focusing on ourselves and what we have been practicing. They're really good, but we're just helping them with some fundamental things. This team is a little more comfortable with each other. We do a lot of things outside softball – go to other sporting events, we eat dinner a lot together. We hang out together on the weekends. We're comfortable and silly and it's a fun atmosphere."

Coyle understands her role as the team's leader, but that doesn't mean Moultrie doesn't have a role in it. She is quieter than others, but when she does talk, it usually commands the attention of the underclassmen.

"I feel like Michelle (Moultrie) is a great leader by example," Coyle said. "People will just sit and watch Michelle, if Michelle says something, everybody listens. If we need someone to be loud and vocal, they turn to me. Michelle is the silent leader."


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