Florida Lacrosse Team Readies For Biggest Match In Program History

Promoted and edited. Quite good, and gives you a sense of how good this team has gotten in less than two years of play.

That's right, folks. Tomorrow is the big one for the Gators lacrosse team. The biggest match in the entire history of the program. Of course that only means it is bigger than any match played in the last two years, but trust me, it's big. Imagine starting a new sports team from scratch at a major university. Surely it will take several years to build up the program, hone the facilities, attract some decent recruits, and establish your coaches, right?

Well, the University of Florida has decided to skip all that that and become a national powerhouse in only its second year of existence.

Your 12-1 (3-0 in conference) and national No. 6 Florida Gators take on the No. 2 Northwestern Wildcats Thursday evening in Gainesville with first place in the American Lacrosse Conference on the line. But so much more than that is at stake. Northwestern is an established lacrosse powerhouse, a perennial national title contender, while the Gators are comprised of one junior, 16 sophomores and nine freshmen. A roster can't get much more youthful than that. 

About seven years ago, Jeremy Foley found his athletic department in need of another women's sport as the number of female students at UF continued to outpace the men and Title IX thoughts loomed large. After careful study of popularity trends amongst high school and college sports, Foley and the UAA decided lacrosse was the way to go.  Lacrosse is thought to be the oldest sport in America, yet until recently, it was only popular in the northeast and midwest. Southern high schools had started to implement lacrosse programs and the time was ripe for a program at UF. 

As usual, UF built the program correctly from the start.  Fundraising began, plans for state of the art facilities were drawn, and a coaching search was conducted. Foley hired Amanda O'Leary away from Yale in April 2007, giving her over two and a half years to build a team before the inaugural match in 2010.

As is the norm at UF, Foley spared no expense on the facilities for the new program. Stadium construction broke ground in the summer of 2008 and in the fall of 2009 the Donald R. Dizney Stadium was completed in time for UF's first lacrosse team to begin practicing.  The facility is so posh that Scott Carter of noted: 

The visitor’s locker room is so nice that coaches from opposing teams have been known to keep it from the view of their players, preferring to dress on the bus instead of using a facility that is much nicer than the one back home.

O'Leary went right to work on recruiting and netted the nation's top ranked recruiting class to become the Gators' first ever lacrosse team.  Her recruiting efforts were extraordinary, pulling the nation's best players from top northeastern programs before UF even had a team or a field.  UF went 10-8 in its first season in 2010, defeating several ranked opponents and making it to the conference semifinal game. The recruiting continued for year two, with O'Leary pulling more talent from lacrosse hotbeds in Maryland, New York, and Virginia. Only two current members of UF's team hail from Florida; Sixteen players hail from Maryland, incuding scoring leaders Kitty Cullen and Ashley Bruns.

UF began the 2011 campaign with a heartbreaking 10-9 overtime defeat against (current No. 4) UNC in Chapel Hill, but hasn't tasted defeat since. The Gators have reeled off 12 straight wins, including victories over traditional powers Syracuse, Temple and Georgetown, as well as conference foes Penn State, Ohio State and Johns Hopkins (UF competes in the six-team American Lacrosse Conference, which also includes Northwestern and Vanderbilt). Last month, the Gators became the fastest team in history to rise to the IWLCA top 10. UF is currently ranked No. 6 in the poll, and is No. 5 in the deBeer Women's Media Poll, the other recognized national lacrosse poll.

So here we are. We're in the second season of lacrosse at the University of Florida and the Gators are poised to announce themselves as legitimate national title contenders if they can defeat No. 2 Northwestern Thursday evening. The match is the home finale for the Gators and O'Leary has her team ready to take that next step. A drop down banner ad on the Gainesville Sun's website announces the match as "Go Green Night" with the first 400 fans receiving reusable Gator tote bags (or "bages" as the Sun announces - must be a special Native American spelling in honor of the sport). so get there early for the 6:30 pm start.  Let's hope that those bags go quickly, and that many hundreds more are left bagless, but cheering on the Gators lacrosse team which deserves nothing less in its home season finale.

Imagine the future of a team this talented, still without a single player to honor on what would be Senior Night. Stay tuned and Go Gators.

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