Gators have advantage early in NCAA Tournament
Published: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 12:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 9:43 p.m.
The Florida lacrosse team has much in its favor heading into the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
The Gators are playing on their home field.
The Gators are tournament tested and one of the nation's most experienced teams.
The Gators get to sit back, relax and watch (and scout) Friday's game between Jacksonville University and Denver, gaining some first-hand knowledge about their opponent in the second round.
Huge advantage: Florida.
“I think a live scout is really important to actually to be able to see (the other teams) on the field,” UF coach Amanda O'Leary said. “We can watch (tape), but sometimes the camera angle isn't where we need it to be to see every single player.
“The ability to see the team in person is certainly always helpful, just their physical attributes. There is not a whole lot of time once you see the live scout to do a whole lot with it. But it gives you at least 24 hours to make some decisions.”
JU (13-5) and Denver (17-2) play a first-round game Friday at 4 p.m., at Dizney Stadium, with No. 5 overall NCAA seed Florida (17-2) facing the winner in the second round Sunday at 1 p.m.
O'Leary said the Gators already have a pretty good feel for what they will be facing Sunday, regardless of who they play.
“(Both teams) are really very, very good,” O'Leary said. “These are two teams that are nationally ranked. They're very, very well coached. Whoever wins this game is going to provide us with a huge challenge.”
Whoever it turns out to be, the Gators have to like their chances of advancing. The senior-laden team has the home-field advantage and UF is playing in its third consecutive NCAA Tournament.
A year ago, in only the third year of the program's existence, the Gators advanced all the way to the semifinals, where they were edged out by Syracuse 14-13. The year before, UF fell to Duke in the quarterfinals.
UF seems poised to make a deep run into the tournament and possibly achieve the ultimate goal of winning the national title.
“The postseason is a whole new ball game,” O'Leary said. “It's what they work so hard for in those months leading up to it. We're real excited, and the opportunity to host the first round is fun, playing in front of the home crowd. It's all good.”
Senior attack Kitty Cullen said the next step for the Gators is to win the national championship.
“We want to go all the way,” Cullen said. “We're going to be playing for each other.”
Said star senior goalie Mikey Meagher: “We're taking it one day at a time. We're not looking ahead. We're more experienced now. We're older. We'll be able to learn from our mistakes (in last year's semifinal loss) and go from there.”
O'Leary said one of the biggest positives in the Gators' favor is UF's strong and big (13) senior class, which helped launch the program four years ago.
“They've made the tournament now three of their four years,” O'Leary said. “They understand. They've been here before. It's not as if it's something new and different. They know what it takes. They know how to prepare.
“They're doing a great job with our younger players in just making sure they're enjoying the ride as well.”
From the very start, it's been a good ride for O'Leary's program. In only four years, UF has emerged as one of the nation's elite in college lacrosse.
O'Leary said this Florida team is a little different than the first three.
“What kind of sets us apart is our team chemistry,” she said. “They are so cohesive. We talk about it being a family, and they are.
“A lot of them come from very far away. Their parents aren't a drive away. They have to rely on each other. I'd say, if anything, this team is definitely a family.”