UF out to overcome second-round woes

FILE — Florida Shannon Kavanagh #17 controls the ball. [Cyndi Chambers/Gainesville Sun Correspondent]

Florida’s lacrosse team will look to break a three-game NCAA Tournament losing streak. And, like last season’s draw, the No. 6-seeded Gators will face a familiar foe.

UF will look to keep its season alive today when it hosts No. 15 Colorado in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Donald R. Dizney Stadium, with the opening draw set for noon.

“You either advance or you go home. I know me being here the past two years and we’ve ended our season early and on an unexpected loss for us, we’re using that to fuel the fire,” UF goalkeeper Haley Hicklen said. “It’s not something we want to focus on necessarily, but we want to learn from it. We want to remember that feeling, that it’s not fun to go home early when you can make it far. And we have that ability.”

Florida, the Big East champion, will look to stay hot facing the visiting Buffaloes (14-5), a team the Gators beat 16-9 in the first week of the season. That game saw the debut of standout freshman midfielder Shannon Kavanagh, and she didn’t disappoint, winning a team-high eight draw controls to go along with a goal and an assist. The freshman was a mainstay in Florida’s rotation this year, starting every game as the Gators finished the regular season with a 16-3 mark while facing a slate full of ranked opponents and claiming a fourth consecutive Big East title in the process.


What: Second round of the NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament

Who: 15 seed Colorado (14-5) vs. six seed Florida (16-3)

When: 12 p.m.

Where: Donald R. Dizney Stadium

Although Kavanagh had yet to arrive in Gainesville, the Gators are all-too-familiar with the program’s recent NCAA Tournament finishes.

“The older girls have talked about it before. I’ve never experienced the feeling (of) having a game where you’re supposed to win and not making it past that first round,” Kavanagh said. “Coming into it, I want to be part of the team that breaks that streak and gets to the final four.”

After posting a 17-2 record in the regular season in 2017, the Gators were eliminated in the second round by Southern California, a team UF had downed 15-10 earlier in the year. And 2016 saw the Gators post an 18-1 record — the only blemish coming to powerhouse Maryland — before falling 14-13 in overtime to Penn State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

So it comes as no surprise the Gators are well aware of the pitfalls that come with the second round, and Florida’s preparation has focused on avoiding another early exit.

“Our team just seems to be really relaxed and ready to play,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “(But) that’s what happened last year. We had beaten USC, so, I think we’ve learned our lesson that we can’t take anything for granted.”

With that said, this team has its own identity, and harping on the failures of the past doesn’t do much good beyond serving as a cautionary tale.

“I think they’re loose. They’re having fun. It’s all about, again, I don’t think there’s that monkey on their back that everybody talks about. They don’t see that. They’re going out and having fun,” O’Leary said. “They’re awesome in the locker room. And I think this team is just different. Their mindset is just different. They walk out every day on the practice field going hard. They don’t take a day off. So, it’s exciting.”