Florida lacrosse team begins NCAA tourney vs. Mercer

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun

After a three-year absence, the NCAA women's lacrosse tournament returns to north central Florida this weekend.

The Gators' title run starts Friday against Mercer (7-7) at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Last weekend, UF won the American Conference Tournament, rolling over fourth-seeded Cincinnati (19-6) and third-seeded Temple (19-4). Florida (16-2) enters the NCAAs with its best record since 2017.

That season, the Gators opened at 17-2 but fell at home to USC in the second round.

This season, Florida, the tourney's sixth overall seed, hopes for a different fate against Mercer. The Bears earned an automatic bid after upsetting the top two teams in the Southern Conference Tournament (No. 2 Coastal Carolina and No. 1 Furman).

Mercer won the tournament for the third season in a row. It has yet to pick up an NCAA win, as it lost to Jacksonville in 2019 and Wagner in 2018. Six Bears were named to the SoCon All-Conference team, including three first team (Hailey Rhatigan, Lily Morin and Emma Pizzo).

Rhatigan led the squad in goals (44) and points (58) and was named All-Conference First Team for the second time. Morin started all 12 games for Mercer and ranked second in goals and points and topped the team with 14 free-position goals.

Florida has star power of its own, led by AAC Midfielder of the Year Shannon Kavanagh. The senior scored six goals in the title-clincher over Temple. She faces an easy time in the circle with Mercer midfielder Erin Degnan. Degan prevailed in 41 draw controls this season, well behind Kavanagh’s 89.

AAC Defender of the Year Cara Trombette could set a Florida record Friday. The fifth-year senior is three groundballs away from Haley Hicklen’s record of 194. She logged four groundballs in the win over Temple.

Goalkeeping has plagued Mercer this season. Bears’ goalkeeper Iseabel Cryne averages 7.43 saves per game, second worst in the conference. However, her .421 save percentage rates second in the SoCon. On the other side, redshirt freshman Sarah Reznick bests the AAC with a .581 mark.

Florida holds a 120-5 tally against teams not ranked in the top 25 and owns a 106-19 record at home.

"Any time we can play at home and not travel, it is a huge deal,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said in a release. “Our players love being at home, playing in front of the home.”

Opening draw launches at 4 p.m., and the game streams on ESPN3. The victor will battle the winner of the Vanderbilt (12-6)-Jacksonville (11-1) game, which starts following the Gator game, at 12 p.m. Sunday.