Former Windermere Prep star Mia Williams reflects on first softball season at UF, mentoring area players

After committing to Florida as a seventh-grader, Mia Williams finally achieved her dream of playing softball for the Gators. Now, she’s using her experience to mentor the area’s next stars.

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When you were in middle school, what did you want to do when you grew up? Probably something classic, like a doctor or firefighter, or maybe something out of this world, such as an astronaut. 

How many of us forgot our dream before we even finished middle school, because we realized it just wasn’t practical — or that playing in the NBA required a combination of height, hand-eye coordination and athleticism that 99% of us don’t possess. Maybe you simply changed your mind.

Whatever the case, we often don’t end up doing what we dreamed of as children. 

But, in the rare case of people like Mia Williams, who not only knew what she wanted to do in 2018, as a seventh-grader, she went out and did it: She became a Florida Gator softball player. Now, she’s using the lessons life has thrown at her like a curveball to help the next generation of the area’s softball stars. 

Florida blue blood

Unlike most middle-schoolers, Williams didn’t just dream of playing softball for the University of Florida. The then 5-foot-8, 12-year-old shortstop for Windermere Prep was such a phenom and contributor for the Lakers varsity team she already earned a scholarship offer from the Gators and committed to UF as a seventh-grader. 

Beyond her play on the field and physical gifts, the softball prodigy also came from a family of Gators — and not just any Florida alums, but two top-level athletes at UF.  

Her mom, Denika Williams, formerly Denika Kisty, was a two-time All-American track-and-field athlete and USA Olympic team qualifier in the javelin. Her dad, Jason Williams, was a star basketball player for the Gators and a 12-year NBA veteran — he won a championship with the Miami Heat in 2006. 

Combine her family’s ties to Gainesville, the early interest from the program and her love for the game, and the dream of playing for the Gators was an easy one for a child to get swept up in. 

The hard part was for a pre-teen to maintain the focus required to improve each day and keep that scholarship offer for the next five years — all while ignoring the hype that came with being the No. 1 prospect in her class (she as dubbed “softball’s next big thing” by Saturday Down South). Williams also battled through an injury that threatened not only her career but her ability to walk. 

Through it all, though, Williams put her head down and kept working. And in 2023, her long-anticipated, sometimes in doubt, dream of representing the Gators as a member of the softball team became a reality. 

“Playing at the next level is amazing,” Williams said. “It felt extremely surreal to finally get there, and then obviously, go on the run we did and make it to the biggest stage the team could make it to. So, yes, I think ultimately the experience has been what I expected.”

It’s not always sunny in Gainesville

Despite the reality of a successful freshman season for Williams — as a regular contributor for a team that finished with a 54-15 record, ranked No. 3 in the country and ended up one win away from reaching the College World Series — she walked onto campus facing adversity. 

“Not everything is sunshine and rainbows,” she said. “You see everyone happy on TV, and they love playing the game. … I just think all the work and everything that goes on off-the-field … the stuff that’s not noticed or seen, taking that stuff into consideration is also a really important part of the reality of playing in college.”

As Extra Inning Softball’s No. 1 prospect for the Class of 2023, Williams was wildly touted as a can’t-miss prospect  who would help propel the Gators to the next level as a shortstop. But with returning starter and 2023 SEC Player of the Year Skylar Wallace holding down that position in her redshirt senior season, Williams would have to make a shift and learn to play second base to see playing time as a freshman. 

“I didn’t mind having to make the move to second base, because Skylar, the girl that was in my normal position, (is) amazing,” Williams said. “But, I do think having to learn a whole new position as a freshman and starting at that position as a freshman, is really stressful, and it can definitely take a toll on your mental health. … I think that more than half of the game of softball is what’s going on in your head.”

Because her positional shift on the defensive side naturally came with difficulties, which required Williams to focus even more on learning the new position’s intricacies, her initial transition in the batter’s box — from hitting off high school pitchers to college pitchers — wasn’t ideal.

“I was just trying to do a lot,” she said. “I was really trying to prove myself, and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that.”

Turning the corner

However, about halfway through the season, Williams started to find some rhythm with her swing. 

“Later in the season, I was just a little bit more loose and a little bit more confident in myself; especially after I got a couple key hits,” she said. “It boosted my confidence a lot, and I think that’s a big part of the mental side of the game.”

One of those key hits was a three-run homer in the second inning against Texas A&M in the semifinals of the SEC tournament, which helped set the tone for the Gators’ win and clinching of a spot in the conference’s championship game.

In the second inning of the title game against Missouri the next day, Williams bombed another three-run homer to again kick off the scoring and ultimately help lead Florida to a conference championship. 

Williams also earned a spot on the SEC All-Tournament team, after her two-homer, six-RBI performance.

“This past season, I might not have batted .400, but what I think was most important was that I got hits when my team needed them,” she said. “That’s more important to me than trying to build up my stats.”

Williams did what the team needed from the batter’s box to lead the Gators to a win in its NCAA Super Regional best-of-three series against Baylor. She hit a two-run home run, which proved to be the difference in the game. 

That win clinched Florida’s spot in the Women’s College World Series; where the Gators advanced to a double-elimination semifinals series against Oklahoma. Florida, coming out of the elimination bracket, had to win two games to advance, while Oklahoma, coming out of the Winners’ bracket, only needed one. Florida won the first game, 9-3, and became the only team in the WCWS to beat Oklahoma, but lost the second in extra innings, 6-5. 

Experience is the best teacher

Now, Williams is using her experience to be a resource for other athletes from West Orange and Southwest Orange, and she happily shares her knowledge on the recruiting, college and mental health struggles related to the sport. She also avails herself to those just needing a training partner.

“It’s super awesome to be in a position to have people look up to you and think how awesome and good you are when like, sometimes you don’t even think that of yourself,” Williams said. “Having … people want to work with you, or to do lessons or just talk to you or sign a ball or take a picture is an awesome opportunity to give back, that little stuff matters to kids. And on my end, it really means a lot, because sometimes, you don’t even think that of ourselves, that we’re even that good. But, just to have them look up to you and just like you so much — it’s an awesome feeling.”

The biggest piece of advice she’s used for herself and given out is: Remember, it’s just a game. 

“I just remind myself to not make things bigger than they are,” Williams said. “A lot of times, we get too hyped up or too nervous, but at the end of the day, it’s just softball. It’s just a game that I’ve been playing since I was a kid.”

One of the older players Williams has spoken to and worked out with during her off time is Windermere High recent graduate and star pitcher Lexi King, an Arkansas commit. Beyond the usual tips and tricks of the trade, Williams was a calming voice in King’s recruitment process. 

“I played with Lexi for a couple years in high school; she’s a super cool kid and great player,” Williams said. “Our conversations were basically me just being there for her as a voice of reassurance. Telling her to not worry about the transition, reminding her that everything’s going to be OK. You just have to go in and do what you’ve been doing your whole life … just remember to have fun. You just have to have fun, because once that part goes away, that’s when it can get a little hard.”



Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

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