Midway through the conference season, another trip to the Women's College World Series seemed to be slipping away from the Florida softball team.
On April 3, the Gators had lost six in a row — swept by Georgia and Kentucky — and struggled to find their identity.
But they persevered.
And tonight, the Gators begin play in the Series by facing Missouri. And they have an appreciation for how far they have come and a better understanding of what it takes to succeed.
"A couple of us lost faith for a couple of weeks," senior outfielder Kelsey Bruder said. "We didn't know what was going on because for so many years. … My freshman year, we lost five games. My sophomore year, we lost five games. So it was a bit of a shock for us.
"But we had a team meeting as soon as we got back from Kentucky and just completely turned it around; played a new ball game, played with confidence, played for us."
Florida (52-10) won 17 of its final 18 to win the East division. It was upset by Auburn in its first SEC tournament game but went 5-1 in the NCAA tournament, including a two-game sweep of Oregon in the Super Regionals, to advance to Oklahoma City.
Florida is the first SEC team to make four consecutive Series appearances. And this is the second straight season the Gators and Tigers will meet. Florida won 5-0 last season but faces a much different team this season.
"Most of the kids that played in the World Series last year for us are returning," Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. "There is no better teacher than experience."
Florida coach Tim Walton said he hopes his team's early struggles made it stronger and more resilient.
"I think for every program, it's good to have some adversity," Walton said. "You hope it doesn't happen every year. But it's good to pay attention to the process in which you go about your business and see the end result.
"It helped us teach, learn and go about our business. There are a lot of things in life that aren't always going to go your way. The ball isn't always going to bounce your way. You really have to pay attention to how you're going about your business, and that really helped us learn who we are as opposed to just wins and losses."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]