Over the next week, Florida coach Tim Walton is looking to guide the Gators to their first Women’s College World Series title at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
He’ll be doing it in the same state where he learned what it takes to win a national title.
The Oklahoma graduate was a pitcher on the Sooners’ 1994 national championship baseball team and won a WCWS title with OU as an assistant on Patty Gasso’s staff in 2000.
Walton, a California native, first came to Oklahoma after two years at Cerritos College in California.
“Coming out here and being in a big-time program and a big-time atmosphere away from home, it’s prepared me for a lot of things,” said Walton, who was the winning pitcher in OU’s 13-5 win over Georgia Tech in the 1994 CWS title game. “Just the sports mentality (in Oklahoma). Being in California, there’s a lot of different professional teams, so coming out here and being a part of something like that shaped a lot of my ideals. It gave me the drive, the will, and the want to actually coach at a school that has football and football is the breadwinner. It’s a lot of fun having that kind of atmosphere, and I think it all started for me when I stepped on campus at Norman.”
Walton has built much of his Florida staff with connections he made while at OU. Assistants Jennifer Rocha and Kenny Gajewski are also Sooner graduates.
Rocha, formerly Jennifer Jaime, went 43-17 during her time as a pitcher at OU from 1996-98. Rocha served as a graduate assistant on the Sooners’ 2000 title team and has been Walton’s pitching coach at Florida since he was hired in 2006.
Gajewski was a teammate of Walton’s at Cerritos College and on OU’s 1994 national championship team. He also served as OU’s turf and maintenance director from 1997-07 before joining Walton at Florida in 2012.
“I think that’s the good part about going to school, you make friends,” Walton said. “There’s a lot of OU people out coaching in many different places and many different sports. The power of the alumni is so important. You can call Joe (Castiglione) and ask for anything. That’s just the respect, especially when you win a national championship and you do some special things.”
Walton has guided fifth-seeded Florida (50-12) to its sixth WCWS appearance, all under his leadership.
“To see anyone that has a connection to our program go out and have success is prideful for us,” Gasso said. “Lonnie Alameda from Florida State is an OU alum, Tim is a baseball alum, Jennifer played for me, Kenny Gajewski is an OU baseball alum and they’ve all done phenomenal jobs. We certainly don’t take any credit for it. We are just really prideful that part of their beginning or start was from the Sooner program.”
The Gators will open the WCWS against Baylor at 11 a.m. Thursday.
“The beauty of being a part of a championship as a player and as a coach is you’re experiencing things like the (WCWS) in a lot of different ways,” Walton said. “Being a part of Patty’s staff in 2000 was great. We had great players, great administration, and it taught us a lot as a Florida staff. We’ve been here a bunch of times now and all the things that we learned along the way (at Oklahoma) have been very useful.”