It took 10 frustrating, fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking seasons for Kevin O'Sullivan to lead Florida to its first national championship.
Moving on from that success wasn't much easier.
Attempting to become the first Division I program in seven years to win back-to-back titles, this Gators team is focused on crafting its own identity — a process O'Sullivan admits took some time in the fall.
"We talked extensively about it: We're not defending a national championship," said O'Sullivan, whose team swept LSU for the College World Series title. "We've got different players, it's a different team. I want this team to write their own chapter, their own book."
If this book is going to be as good as the last, pitching will again lead the way for the Gators.
Florida lost ace Alex Faedo — a first-round pick by the Detroit Tigers — but returns a talented rotation led by right-handed starters Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and Tyler Dyson, who combined for a 25-6 record last season. All-American closer Michael Byrne is also back and capable of powering a bullpen that could be one of the nation’s best.
"We've got some question marks like everybody else does," O'Sullivan said. "I do like this team. I do think they are heading in the right direction as far as putting last year behind them, but time will tell."
The Gators’ lineup features several familiar faces. Catcher JJ Schwarz — recently named team captain — returns after hitting a team-best 12 home runs and 56 RBIs. Infielders Jonathan India and Deacon Liput and outfielders Nelson Maldonado and Austin Langworthy will also be major factors as part of a lineup that averaged 5.4 runs per game last season.
Add in another stacked freshman class, including infielder Brady McConnell and two-way player Jordan Butler, and it’s little surprise the Gators open the season against Siena as the No. 1 team.
“If you’re going to come here, you’re going to win a lot of baseball games,” said Keenan Bell, a former Episcopal standout who expects to start at first base this season. “There’s a lot of expectations, but this is where the best of the best come.”
Last year: 52-19, won College World Series
Coach: Kevin O'Sullivan (11th season, 448-208)
Key returners: P Michael Byrne (4-5, 19 saves), P Brady Singer (9-5, 3.21 ERA), C JJ Schwarz (12 HR, 56 RBI), IF Jonathan India (.274, 34 RBI)
Top newcomers: P Tommy Mace (8-2, 1.29 ERA at Sunlake HS), IF Brady McConnell (.372, 24 RBI at Merritt Island HS), OF Wil Dalton (.392, 15 HR at Columbia State CC)
Did you know: Since Southern Cal won five straight national titles from 1970-74, only four programs — Stanford in 1987-88, LSU in 1996-97, Oregon State in 2006-07 and South Carolina in 2010-11 — have repeated as champions.