When Florida midfielder Sammi Burgess started high school in 2009, the Gators' lacrosse program had yet to play a single game.

Seven years and 105 wins later, UF has been to the NCAA tournament five times, reaching the Final Four in 2012. The inaugural season aside, the Gators have yet to finish outside the top-15 at season’s end.

Florida's Amanda O’Leary, who has coached the program from the beginning, has created a winning lacrosse atmosphere in an unlikely part of the country.

Geographically, No. 3 North Carolina and No. 13 Duke are the closest ranked schools to No. 2 UF (10-1), but they are both located more than 500 miles away from Gainesville.

The opportunities for future Division I college lacrosse players are almost endless in the northern part of the United States, especially in Maryland and New England.

But the Gators have been able to reel in talent from the northern competition, as just four players on the 2016 roster are from a state south of North Carolina.

Junior defender Caroline Fitzgerald, a Mount Sinai, New York, native, said that she was intrigued by the amount of growth the Gators experienced in a small amount of time.

"In just three or four years, they were already winning major games against top opponents," Fitzgerald said. "So, I figured this would be a great place for me to go and experience such a great athletic program."

Burgess said having a newly built facility, which finished construction in 2009 and contains a 12,000-square foot locker area, is a reliable recruiting tool, but she also gave some credit to the winning pedigree that Florida athletics has established over the years.

"People want to come here because they want to play for the Florida Gators, and the Florida Gators are known for being one of the best programs for everything," she said.

And aside from growing the game by bringing players in, Burgess believes that current players will want to coach after they’re done playing in order to help create a winning atmosphere at other schools. In doing so, the ex-players can help continue to expand the game outside the northeast.

For example, Shannon Gilroy, who played at Florida last year and was considered one of the nation’s best women’s collegiate players at the time, is an assistant at Big East rival Vanderbilt, who the Gators play at noon Saturday at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

Burgess hopes that the success of Florida and in-state Division I foe Jacksonville, which has won 35 games since the start of the 2014 season, will serve as examples for other schools in the South that are trying to develop competitive lacrosse programs.

"I think that (O’Leary) is probably really willing to help those schools," she said, "and give them advice in any way to make sure that they are just as great as we have become."

Contact Kyle Brutman at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @KBrut13

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