UF lacrosse looking to continue Big East dominance

Florida lacrosse coach Amanda O'Leary at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun/File]

Reminders of championship seasons are on display down the concourse at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

Big East regular season title banners, Big East tournament title banners.

The Florida women’s lacrosse team has enjoyed unprecedented success in the league since joining the Big East in 2015, winning four straight conference titles and three straight outright championships.

Florida will begin the quest for its fourth straight Big East Conference Tournament title when it hosts Maquette on Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m.

Under the tournament format, the top four of 10 teams in the conference qualified for the event. Second-seed Georgetown and third-seed Denver will play in the second semifinal on Thursday night at 7, with the championship game set for Saturday at noon.

Florida is hosting a conference tournament for the first time since 2012, when it hosted and won the ALC Conference Tournament. That season, Florida reached the NCAA Division I final four before falling to Syracuse.

“It’s exciting for fans to have top-notch lacrosse come to the area,” Florida coach Amanda O’Leary said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for young people, young lacrosse players, boys and girls, to see some great lacrosse games and certainly playing in front of our home fans, that’s exciting. I know our team really gets excited and the momentum is there when we walk out of the locker room and see all of those people in the stands.”

Florida (14-3, 9-0 Big East) clinched the Big East crown with a 23-3 win over Butler last Saturday. The Gators have won 27 straight conference games, dating back to 2015.

“Our players want to compete, and it doesn’t matter who the competition is, they’re ready to compete,” O’Leary said. “We’ve been lucky enough to be in this league and it’s an outstanding league and I think this year, more than any, I think there’s more parity in the league and the final four teams weren’t announced until after this past weekend. So, there’s a lot of good teams in this league.”

The dominance in the regular season was reflected in the Big East postseason awards, which were announced Wednesday. Florida junior Haley Hicklen earned league goaltender of the year honors, while junior Sydney Pirreca was named Big East co-midfielder of the year. Florida midfielder Shannon Kavanagh was named the Big East freshman of the year and O’Leary and her staff earned Big East coaching staff of the year honors for the third straight season.

Florida has dealt with some adversity this season, losing second-leading scorer Lindsey Ronbeck for a three-game stretch earlier this season with an MCL sprain. O’Leary said this season’s team has been more resilient than in prior seasons, which could serve them well in the postseason.

“They get along really well,” O’Leary said. “They have a great locker room atmosphere and I think they have each other’s backs. I think that was evident in the games that we played, when we were down by six goals and clawed our way back and we were down by a goal at the end and found a way to win. I think this team is one of those gut it out, grit it out. They never say die no matter what the score is.”

Ronbeck, a junior, said that determination comes from falling short of expectations in the NCAA Tournament the past few seasons. UF ended last season with a home loss to USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re a very unique team,” Ronbeck said. “We have a lot of very young players stepping into leadership roles which is really helpful but also I just think, like I said, our determination and our focus this year has just been completely different.”

Florida is facing Marquette for the second time this season, having knocked off the Golden Eagles 18-6 at home April 14. The elements could play a factor again Thursday. Marquette plays in a domed stadium and with temperatures expected in the 80s, will need to deal with both the heat and humidity that blankets Florida in early May.

“Toward the end of the first half and the second half we always try to wear the defense out, so that way it’s easier for us to make backdoor cuts or one-vs-one drives,” Ronbeck said. “So I think (the heat) is going to be a huge factor playing into this weekend.”


What: Big East lacrosse tourney

Who: Four seed Marquette (10-7) vs. top seeded Florida (14-3), 4 p.m.

Second seed Georgetown (12-4) vs. third seed Denver (11-5), 7 p.m.

Where: Donald R. Dizney Stadium on campus.