Lacrosse: No. 5 UF opens at No. 3 UNC

The Florida Gators are coming off of a sophomore campaign that featured the lacrosse team being ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation.

They were able to fight their way through the American Lacrosse Conference tournament to be crowned champions and earn a bid for the NCAA Tournament in only their second season of existence. Florida upset Stanford to make it to the quarterfinals where it eventually lost 13-9 against Duke.

Now comes Florida’s junior season, they will be looking for the same success as last season, but with even higher expectations.

The goal: a National Championship.

Without even stepping on to the pitch, the Gators were able to accomplish another feat for their young program. In both the IWLCA Preseason Poll and the Lacrosse Magazine Preseason Poll, Florida is a unanimous Top 5 squad in the nation. This is the Gators’ highest preseason ranking in school history. They are No. 4 in the IWLCA Poll and No. 5 in the Lacrosse Magazine Poll.

On top of that, Florida got an opportunity to play against its first international opponent in school history.

After a convincing 17-2 win against the English National Team, the No. 5 Florida Gators will be traveling to Chapel Hill, N.C., to open their season against No. 3 North Carolina on Saturday. The game begins at noon.

Opening up the season against a No. 3 opponent isn’t exactly the ideal scenario for any coach or player. It gives no room for error on Florida’s part.

In fact, most coaches would prefer to start off the season against a relatively easy team to get the juices flowing and find their team’s rhythm, but Florida coach Amanda O’Leary has a different take on the situation.

“I think it’s really good for us to go out and play that first competition against one of the best teams in the country because I think it sets a precedent,” O’Leary said, “It tells us where we need to go from there, what we need to work on, good and bad.”

At first glance though, it’s hard to see where the Gators need to improve and work on. After a monumental second season, Florida is returning 17 players and 11 of them are starters. Of those 11, All-Americans Kitty Cullen (Rockville, Md.), Sam Farrell (Millersville, Md.) and Ashley Bruns (Ellicott City, Md.) will be on the pitch for the Gators once again. Junior attacker Cullen will be looking to repeat her 77 goal performance from last season, which was second best in the country.

The Gators also have brought in the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation, according to Inside Lacrosse magazine. The freshmen will have a seemingly huge impact on Florida this season. As shown in the game against England, three of the seven freshmen got to start and freshmen Nicole Graziano, Nora Barry and Taylor McCord combined to score seven out of the team’s 17 goals against England.

An exhibition game though does not have the meaning, intensity or pressure of an actual game that counts.

Florida is an all-time 0-2 against North Carolina. In the Gators first season, they got pulverized 18-5. In their second season on the other hand, they lost 10-9 in overtime after putting up a resilient effort.

This time around, Florida has to outmaneuver and outplay North Carolina from the first minute the team steps on to the field. The Gators have to start this season off on a positive note to forge onward through the competition that lies ahead of them. Eight of the Gators’ 17 opponents are ranked in the preseason polls, including a key matchup against No. 1 Northwestern on April 21.

Florida will have to prove to the country this season why they deserve to be a top-tier team to reach their ultimate goal — A National Championship.