Stephanie Tofft's decision to leave the struggling Northern Illinois softball program paid off in a big way for the former Lincoln High School star and Bee All-Metro first-team selection.
Tofft landed at powerhouse Florida and helped the Gators (58-9) reach the College World Series in Oklahoma City for the fifth time in six seasons this spring.
The junior started every game, led Florida in doubles (18) and was second in batting average (.332) and RBIs (53). She received National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Southeastern Region second-team honors.
In a World Series elimination game against Nebraska on June 1, Tofft had two hits, three walks and an RBI in Florida's 9-8, 15-inning victory.
"It was crazy to look around and see the stands packed," said Tofft, referring to the nearly 10,000 fans in attendance. "I was tired by the end, but that was a cool experience."
Florida's season ended the next day with a 3-0 loss to Texas, but it was quite a ride for Tofft and the Gators, who were supposed to be in a rebuilding season.
As a sophomore at Northern Illinois, the versatile Tofft batted .379, despite a bad back, while playing outfield, catcher, shortstop and first and third base for a team that went 19-34. She was an All-Mid-American Conference first-team selection as a freshman after hitting a team-high .434 and going 3-3 on the mound.
"It wasn't a good fit for me," Tofft said of Northern Illinois. "I liked the team. I had some great friends. But I wasn't being challenged enough as a softball player."
Tofft secured her release and at the urging of her father, Kenichi, endeavored to think big with her second opportunity.
She took recruiting visits to East Carolina, Kansas and Florida. But when Gators coach Tim Walton called with an offer, Tofft was stunned and elated.
"I was jumping up and down," she said. "I wasn't sure if I was going to start or even play much, but I was excited."
Florida had sudden openings after Walton suspended and later dismissed three starters, including sisters Kasey Fagan (now at Arkansas) and Sami Fagan (now at Missouri), the daughters of former 49ers lineman Kevin Fagan, late last season for reasons never publicly revealed by the university.
One of the open spots was at third, a position Tofft hadn't played much since her recreation softball days. While Tofft contributed offensively, it was her solid defense that helped Florida win the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament championships.
With only one starter expected to graduate, Tofft thinks the Gators could have the talent to win the school's first NCAA Division I softball title after runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2011.
"This team likes to work," she said. "I can't wait until next season."
Rocky Mountain hi CIF state track and field sprint medalist Austin Mitsch of Jesuit will soon head to Colorado, where he'll join several other former Marauders track standouts competing in the Pacific-12 Conference.
Sprinter Tom Blocker and high jumper Nick Ridge are at Cal, hurdler R.J. Frasier competes for UCLA, and Jeremy Hines throws for Stanford.
Mitsch, who placed third in the 200 and sixth in the 100 at the June 1 state finals, said his college decision came down to Arizona, Boise State and Colorado.
"I decided on Colorado because the coach is a great guy and the team was very welcoming," Mitsch said. "I'm also a big outdoors guy. I feel I can have success in running there and be happy, but it's also a great place to go if track doesn't work out."
All-Americans Four area players were among 49 named high school All-Americans by US Lacrosse.
They are Jesuit senior Elijah Gaea, Davis senior Mikie Schlosser, Oak Ridge junior Josh Wellman and Franklin junior Harley Whitham.
Pleasant Grove senior Chase Crimmins was named to the 24-member All-Academic Team.
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.