Determined to be the best
UF's Kelsey Stewart focused on reaching new heights
Every once in a while, there is an athlete who goes into a program and becomes an impact player from the get-go.
The player comes in, sets the world on fire and shatters numerous records.
Florida has a player who has done just that over the past two years.
Her name is Kelsey Stewart, and she might just be one of the best softball players UF has seen come through its program.
One look at what the junior has accomplished on the softball field and in the batters box tells the story of how great she has been since putting on the Gator uniform.
Coach Tim Walton said Stewart is already a household name around the program.
"Everybody knows how talented she is," Walton said. "She’s super competitive, not only with herself, but with her teammates and opponents."
Stewart, a Wichita, Kansas, native set three UF single-season records in her freshman season. She led the nation with 10 triples and also swiped 36 bases on 39 attempts.
Her .378 average at the plate led the team and she ranked second in the Southeastern Conference with 90 hits, all while leading the conference in plate appearances (274) and at-bats (238).
Stewart was also selected as a member of the Freshman All-SEC Team and was a Second Team All-SEC selection.
Growing up in a town like Wichita led Stewart to be motivated to show how good she can really be on the softball field to everyone and become a role model.
"I started really young and then [being] from a small town, so just realizing that now I’m here and girls want to push to be where I am," Stewart said.
In her sophomore year, Stewart showed the entire country just how good she really is.
She upped her batting average up to a robust .438 and led the SEC with a school record 102 hits. Stewart began the season by reaching base 41 consecutive times, another UF record. Stewart, the team’s leadoff hitter, tied her own school record with 36 stolen bases, while attempting a record 41.
That season she was honored as an a NFCA First Team All-American selection.
The second baseman was also named to the All-SEC First Team and was an integral cog for Florida as it captured its first national title in school history as she was named to the Women’s College World Series All-Tournament team.
Walton knows how much Stewart has brought to the program her first two years, but he still needs her to come out with the same attitude in her final two seasons as a Gator.
"Right now, she’s been a good player for us, and the kids in our hallway at the stadium, they’ve been great players," Walton said. "They brought it every single day for four years, not for two years."
Walton is constantly trying to find ways to push Stewart into becoming the best player she can be.
"He really likes to tell me I’m the second best in the world, which you know is not OK, got to be the best," Stewart said.
"He always jokes around with me and is like ‘really you can’t get a bunt down, really soft slap.’ Just little things that he knows gets on my nerves because I want to be the best."
And with all the records Stewart has amassed in her first two years, Walton is still expecting Stewart to have the drive and determination to be up for the challenge.
"She’s got a lot of work to still do," Walton said. "I challenge her everyday … I love Kelsey Stewart and she brings it every single day and if she continues to bring it, she’s going to be one of the best we’ve ever had."
She’ll have that chance on Saturday, as Florida takes on Michigan State in the USF Softball Classic in Tampa.
The Gators are in prime position to repeat as champions as they open up the season as the No. 1 team in the country.
With returning players like Lauren Haeger, Kirsti Merritt and Delanie Gourley, Florida has a good shot at finding itself back in Oklahoma City for another Women's College World Series run.
But the team might only go as far as Stewart will take them, as she’s more than assured to be penciled in at the top of the lineup.