OCALA--In just two years, the College of Central Florida softball team has become a national power under coach Kevin Fagan.
After never finishing higher than fourth in the Mid-Florida Conference, the Patriots finished national runner-up in 2014 and spent much of last season as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation under Fagan.
This time around, CF looks for more success and to erase the disappointment of a 1-2 showing at the state tournament.
"We know that people will be gunning for us," said Fagan, a former Super Bowl winning defensive lineman with the San Francisco 49ers who led Dunnellon High School to two state championships in softball after his NFL days.
This year's Patriot team is very athletic, which should keep the pressure on opponents.
"This is probably the fastest team that I've had," Fagan said. "I think we'll be very good defensively and we will be able to hit.
"This is a good group and I like the effort so far."
In softball, it all starts in the circle and CF picked up an excellent transfer in Kalen McGill, a former standout at Gainesville P.K. Yonge.
As a freshman at South Alabama, McGill went 16-4 with a 1.92 ERA in 127 innings. She led the Sun Belt Conference in ERA and will be a key replacement for Holly McKinnon, one of the nation's top pitchers in 2015.
"She's a key for us and she has proven that she can beat Division I teams," said Fagan about McGill, who defeated Florida Gulf Coast and UCF during the fall. "We're looking for big things out of her."
Getting back to the speed aspect of the team, Mariah Wise is the spark.
As a freshman, Wise earned second-team NJCAA All-America honors, as she batted .359 with 38 runs scored and 16 RBI.
"She's one of those true leadoff hitters in that every time she gets on base she has the chance to turn it into a double," Fagan said.
Cullop and Barlow should bat third and fourth in the lineup, while White gives the Patriots depth in the circle behind McGill.
Meanwhile, CF's conference is always among the toughest in the state.
The Patriots will do battle with the likes of FSC-J, Santa Fe and Seminole State in hopes of their second consecutive conference crown.
Last year was CF's first-ever MFC title and the first time that it ever swept rival Santa Fe.
With a solid mix of newcomers and veterans, the Patriots hope to keep their spot among the nation's elite.
CF kicks off its regular season at the JUCO Kickoff Classic this weekend in Clearwater, Fla. The Lady Patriots will take on Georgia Highlands College (11 a.m.), Polk State College (3:20 p.m.) and Richard Bland College (5:40 p.m.) on Saturday, and round out opening weekend with East Georgia State (9 a.m.), South Georgia State (11 a.m.), and Odessa College (1:20 p.m.) on Sunday.
Follow the weekend's action via live stats on GameChanger and up-to-date news and results on www.cfpatriots.net.