Notebook: UF lacrosse set to open season
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013 at 9:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 4, 2013 at 9:32 p.m.
The seniors on the 2013 Florida lacrosse team have been the heart and soul of coach Amanda O'Leary's first three UF squads, each of which has advanced to new heights.
Now, after helping Florida to a 19-3 record and its first NCAA semifinal appearance in 2012, they are focused on ending their careers by bringing home the program's first national championship.
“This senior class will always hold a special place in my heart,” O'Leary said. “They were the trailblazers. They came in when we had nothing to show, and they took a chance.
“This class is pretty special. They did come in as the No. 1-ranked recruiting class, so I think there's a lot to prove. We haven't quite gotten to where we needed to be, and hopefully maybe this is our year.”
The third-ranked Gators open their season Saturday at No. 5 North Carolina. The match, which starts at noon, will be carried live on ESPN3 (online).
UF won its Jan. 24 preseason exhibition match against the English National Team, 18-13.
“Carolina is a fast and tenacious team,” O'Leary said. “They're really well-coached, they have a veteran goalie, a really solid defense and some explosive attackers, so it's going to be a great game.”
The top-ranked Gators posted their second-highest score of the year in downing No. 22 Arkansas in Fayetteville, 197.575-196.175, last Friday.
UF (4-1, 3-1) won four of the meet's five event titles led by senior Ashanee Dickerson and freshman Bridget Sloan sharing the all-around crown with matching scores of 39.55.
“It was a great example of what we wanted to accomplish,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “We wanted to step in there on our second road meet of the year and compete aggressively. We decided right from the start that we were going to create our own energy.”
Florida hosts No. 5 and two-time defending NCAA champion Alabama Friday night at 7 in the O'Connell Center in what should be one of the top dual meets in the nation this season.
The Tide (3-1, 3-1), who are coming off a tough road loss to No. 6 Georgia, edged UF by 0.075 for last year's NCAA crown.
Coach Amanda Butler took a lot of positives from Sunday's 87-54 home win over Alabama that ended a season-long five-game losing streak for the Gators, all in Southeastern Conference play.
“We put together one of the most complete games that we've played this season, especially in the SEC,” she said. “I'm just really proud of our bunch again, to not be discouraged or hang their heads. They just keep fighting and believing in how good they are and are relishing another opportunity to compete and show everybody that.”
Florida (14-9, 3-6) placed five players in double figures in the win over the Crimson Tide, led by freshman Christin Mercer's first career double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds).
UF has a mid-week bye before playing on the road Sunday at Auburn (13-9, 2-7), with tip-off scheduled for 3 p.m. The game will be televised live (Fox SportsSouth, Sun Sports).
Coming off their best fall since the 2007-08 season, the No. 3-ranked Gators picked up where they left off, opening their spring season by winning their third team title of the year in five tries at last week's Florida Challenge at Lecanto's Black Diamond Ranch Course.
Sophomore Camilla Hedberg kept up UF's amazing streak of individual winners by sharing the top spot with UCF's Monifa Sealy, making Gator golfers 5-for-5 in medalist honors.
“It was a good way to start and a good way to sort of test what we've been working on all spring,” first-year coach Emily Bastel said.
Three other UF players traveled to the Lady Bulldog Invitational in Athens, Ga., where senior Mia Piccio came away with her first career win with a 3-under par 69.
Cold weather shortened the event from the scheduled 36 holes to 18.
No. 4 UF opens its spring season by hosting Florida's only home tournament of the year, the annual SunTrust Gator Invitational, Saturday and Sunday at the Mark Bostic Golf Course.
Coach Buddy Alexander is anxious to see how his team, which won one tournament in the fall and finished runner-up on two other occasions, performs.
“The fall was very solid,” Alexander said. “We've got a nice team. It's a senior-led group with T. J. Vogel and Tyler McCumber. Both of them have been nominated for the Hogan Watch List, and there's only like 24 kids that are nominated for that.
“Those kids want to do some special things at the end of this year, and I think we've got a chance to do that.”
Coach Tim Walton's young 2013 squad will be tested right off the bat as the 14th-ranked Gators, who have 12 freshmen and sophomores among their 16-player roster, open the season at the tough Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., this weekend.
Among the five teams UF will face Friday through Sunday are No. 3 California, No. 5 Oregon and No. 13 Arizona. The Gators also will play Creighton and Cal State-Northridge.
“I'm looking forward to opening up the season,” Walton said. “We're excited. It will be a good all-around test right away.”