Just days after No. 3 Florida had upset No. 1 Northwestern to record its first-ever victory against a top-ranked team, coach Amanda O’Leary had the Gators back on the grind.
Despite a two-week break before the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament, she was determined not to let her team lose the edge it had just gained from such a crucial road win.
“Last week was a hard week of practice,” she said.
O’Leary worked her players in the sweltering heat relentlessly before easing back and giving them some time off to rest and recuperate at the beginning of this week.
With a little more bounce in its step and an itch to get back on the field, Florida is hoping the extended break from the playing field will help it play even better than it did two weeks ago.
“We had so many games like all season, so having this two-week break really is helping us, obviously physically for our legs and resting our bodies,” junior defender Sam Farrell said. “But (we’re) also just preparing for things we need to work on and working in practice every day on what we need to improve on.”
Florida will meet the winner of Ohio State and Vanderbilt in the semifinals of the ALC Tournament on Friday night, meaning it’ll have an even bigger physical advantage over its opponent when the game begins.
O’Leary called the first-round bye the Gators secured as the tournament’s top seed as “crucial” because of the added time off it gave the team.
“This is a tough tournament to win as the bottom seeds, because you have to play three days in a row,” she said. “Given the opportunity to only have to – if we win in the first game – compete the day after, it’s an incredible advantage.”
The weather in Gainesville this weekend could also play right into Florida’s hands. Friday evening’s game won’t be as brutal in the heat, but Saturday’s championship game will be in the middle of the afternoon, on a day temperatures are expected to hit the lower 90s.
Florida has practiced in the heat for the past two weeks, and the Gators are hoping that’ll provide them an extra edge against an opponent that played the day before.
“I think that’s a huge advantage,” Farrell said. “We practice in this heat every single day, so we’re definitely used to it. I just think teams, especially all the northern teams just aren’t going to be used to this weather.”
Rest and weather aside, the Gators know they’ll have their hands full this weekend if they hope to capture their first tournament title.
Florida has beaten each of the five teams in the conference tournament, and they’ll be gunning for the tournament host.
“The teams that we beat are coming back to try to beat us,” junior midfielder Brittany Dashiell said. “All these games are going to be back-to-back, which is going to show each team’s heart and how much conditioning they have as a whole. I think that’s going to be a big factor in the tournament.”