The Florida lacrosse team made its presence known to the Big East conference in 2015.
Following a five-year stint in the now-defunct American Lacrosse Conference, coach Amanda O’Leary and the Gators made the move to the Big East.
Florida was able to avenge its only conference loss of the season — an 11-10 contest against Connecticut on the road — in the Big East title game as UF splintered UConn 20-6 to capture its first Big East crown.
Led by now-graduated Shannon Gilroy, who posted team-high marks in goals (74) and assists (24), the Gators reached the second round of the 2015 NCAA tournament, where their dreams of an NCAA title were tarnished by Atlantic Coast Conference power North Carolina 11-6.
Despite the loss of Gilroy and fellow graduates Mikki Offit and Nora Barry, Florida enters its seventh season with a pile of experienced players. The Gators boast nine seniors and eight juniors.
Midfielder Mollie Stevens, perhaps the team’s most notable returner, belongs to the latter class.
Stevens, who is on a program record 25-game goal streak, has been a large part of the Gators’ offense during her two seasons in Gainesville, notching 79 goals and 11 assists.
Florida also returns six of its seven players with double-digit assists last season: Sammi Burgess, Allie Pavinelli, Nicole Graziano, Lauren Lea, Carly Ross and Darcy Messina.
This season, the Gators will welcome an 11-player freshman class, the No. 4 recruiting class in the nation according to Inside Lacrosse.
Highlighted by respective No. 1 and No. 2 national recruits Lindsey Ronbeck and Sydney Pirreca, the new wave of players consists of seven midfielders, two attackers, one defender and one goalkeeper.
Florida begins its regular season on Feb. 6 at home against Loyola. The 2016 non-conference schedule features five of the the top 10 teams from Inside Lacrosse’s final 2015 poll: Maryland, UNC, Syracuse, Stony Brook and Boston College.
The most anticipated regular season conference game for the Gators is the final match before the postseason, which is, fittingly enough, against the UConn Huskies on April 24 — this time at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville.
Follow Kyle Brutman on Twitter @KBrut13