Having beat the best in 2020, No. 8 UF lacross looking to build on foundation

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida lacrosse player Shannon Kavanagh is one of six Gators named Preseason All-AAC.

The Gators had finally done it. 

The Florida lacrosse team, in the second game of the 2020 season, had gone on the road and snapped No. 1-ranked Maryland’s 86-match win streak at home. 

UF had scored the go-ahead goal with less than a minute to play, with the 15-14 result becoming the first loss at home for Maryland, considered one of if not the best women’s lacrosse programs in the country, since 2012. 

Florida was over the figurative hump that was the Terrapins and on its way to potentially vying for the national championship — then the pandemic hit, and the lacrosse season was a wash like all the other spring sports. 

Now, 11 months later, the Gators, 6-2 a year ago, are back in the building and looking to finish what they started last season when Florida opens the 17-match 2021 campaign Saturday at Louisville, with faceoff set for 11:30 a.m.

“I think last year certainly caught us all by surprise, having to abruptly end our season and then leave campus. It just felt like there was no closure, and then having the opportunity to come back this year and compete. We had a great Fall, and now we’re looking forward to getting started. I don’t think any of us take this for granted. We appreciate every day we’re able to be together,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “I think we’re super excited to get back out there.

"Obviously after last year having the season canceled midway through left a void in all of us. So I think getting started this year hopefully will fill that void, and we’re ready to go.”

That’s the expectation — that Florida won’t miss a beat from last season. The Gators are ranked No. 8 in the preseason rankings and picked to win the American Athletic Conference in the 2021 Preseason Coaches’ Poll, with multiple players garnering award recognition in the conference as well. 

Shannon Kavanagh earned her second consecutive Preseason Midfielder of the Year nomination and Cara Trombetta was named Preseason Co-Defender of the Year, the third consecutive year Trombetta has received accolades prior to the season. Meanwhile, redshirt senior Brianna Harris, who started all eight games for UF last season, was named the AAC’s Preseason Attacker of the Year, while redshirt sophomore Sarah Reznick picked up the nomination for Preseason Goalkeeper of the Year. 

In all, considering the all-around nominations, there’s plenty of reasons for UF to be keen on its chances of once again competing with the best of the best. 

Even more importantly, O’Leary’s impressions of practice have seemingly confirmed the expectations. 

“I’m really pleased with what we’re doing at practice every day. Kids are working hard, we’re starting to come together, getting back into the groove of things” O’Leary said Thursday. “Sarah (Reznick) is just off the charts. She has the fastest hands. There’s nobody better in the country I don’t think in the goalkeeping position than Sarah. She’s just simply amazing. She just has that, I don’t know, she has the confidence, she can let things go. She’s a true competitor on and off the field.”

The additional precautions necessary to compete and participate are well-documented throughout the pandemic, and O’Leary further praised the leadership of Trombetta, Kavanagh, Harris and Kaitlyn Dabkowski — the team’s four captains — for helping guide their teammates thus far. 

As the Gators begin to resume what they started last season — filling that void in the process — they’ll undoubtedly need leaders aside from Florida’s coaching staff as the 2021 campaign gets underway. 

“I think that taking what we did last year as a foundation of what we are continuing on this year has just set us up for a lot of success, I hope,” Trombetta said. “I think it’s going to be great. I’m excited to see all of our hard work over the last year, year-and-a half, put forth on the field.”