Horton has UF eyeing WCWS berth
Valrico is Kelsey Horton's hometown.
For Horton, a four-year starter on the University of Florida's softball team, Gainesville is her second hometown.
If things go right for Horton and the Gators this weekend, Oklahoma City could become her third hometown.
Horton, a senior right fielder from Durant High, has helped the Gators reach the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City twice in three years. Starting today, they host the University of Alabama-Birmingham in the Super Regionals round of the NCAA Tournament.
Growing up in a family of Gators fans, Horton always had her eyes set on playing softball for the Gators.
As early as eighth grade, Horton started attending softball camps run by the Gators in the hopes of being exposed to the coaches she hoped would one day offer her a scholarship.
“She came to camp one time as an eighth-grader going into her freshman year,” Florida coach Tim Walton said. “She was a nice, tall, skinny kid. She always had her catcher's gear on and always had a smile. It was very clear from Day One that she loved the Gators.”
When that offer did come, Horton forgot about every school she had taken official visits to and immediately committed to play for Walton and the Gators.
“I was born and raised a Gators fan, so Florida is where I've wanted to be ever since I can remember,” Horton said. “I grew up a Gators fans and came to football games and didn't like the Seminoles. That's just how it was. … My parents encouraged me to look at all the schools that were recruiting me, but when the offer came from Florida, I took it right away.”
From the beginning, Horton had a spot in Florida's batting lineup. She's bounced around in her career, serving as a designated hitter, catcher and outfielder at different times. Her bat has always been an important piece of Walton's lineup.
“Offense has been her biggest strength, and really has been since she stepped on the campus here,” Walton said. “She's a kid that possesses power, she's somebody who has hit a lot of homers in her career. She's been very consistent from her freshman, sophomore, junior to senior years. She's been a consistent kid. Of all the things she can do to help our team to win a Super Regional, is to be a clutch five-hole hitter and help us score some runs.”
Apart from success on and off the field — 55-7 Florida is ranked No. 2 nationally and Horton, who earned her degree in Nutritional Sciences this month — Horton said this year's team has been the most fun group she's ever played with.
“I think fun is the way to describe this season,” Horton said. “We have crazy personalities, but it all works. … It's so nice to be a senior and enjoy all the people you're around every day and also win.”
Now, Horton and the Gators are two wins away from earning their fifth trip to Oklahoma City in six years.
Standing in their way are the UAB Blazers, one of three unseeded teams to reach the Super Regionals.
UAB won the Louisville regional in dramatic fashion, earning a Super Regionals berth with a marathon 13-inning 3-2 win against 11-time national champion UCLA.
For Horton, reaching a third WCWS isn't as big an accomplishment as helping her younger teammates reach their first.
“Hardly any of these group of girls have been able to experience (the WCWS), so I would love for them to be able to go there,” she said. “It's a great atmosphere and it's so much fun. It's just softball at the highest stage.”