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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Next spring, women's lacrosse will make its debut at UF, giving the Gators the first Division I program in the state and the second in the Southeastern Conference.

UF coach Amanda O'Leary is up for the challenge of bringing the sport to Gainesville.

O'Leary is coming to UF after 14 years as the coach at Yale. She is ranked fifth in the NCAA among active Division I coaches in career winning percentage.

"It was a dream come true to start a program from scratch," O'Leary said.

As of now, the roster is composed of 24 incoming freshmen, and creating a unified team at a new program may be the biggest challenge for O'Leary. She hopes to bring a couple players up from the UF club team and possibly obtain a few transfer athletes from other schools.

Of the 24 players who have signed, only one, Jamie Reeg from Park Vista High, is from Florida. O'Leary said her staff recruited from the hotbeds of lacrosse, mostly in the mid-Atlantic. Seventeen of the team's 24 players are from Maryland. The rest are from New Jersey and New York.

"Hopefully in the future there will be a little better balance of some from Florida, but at this point we felt pretty confident and happy about the group that we have coming here," O'Leary said.

Rachel Smith, a defender from Ellicott City, Md., is excited to start on a new team.

"I like how everybody at UF is so into helping academically and athletically," she said.

O'Leary said many of the players from Maryland have played together on the same club teams, and several players are coming from the same high schools. O'Leary believes this will make it easier to mold the group of 24 freshmen into a team.

"They will already have a pre-established relationship on the field, and they will know what each other's moves are, so that will be a positive for us," O'Leary said.

Smith will be joined at UF by two high school teammates, attackers Ashley Bruns and Amanda Wedekind.

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"I think it will be better to start knowing people already," Smith said. "Ashley has been my best friend, and she plays attack so I can get the ball to her."

UF joins Vanderbilt as the second team in the SEC to have a women's lacrosse program. The Commodores, who have played since 1996, compete in the American Lacrosse Conference. Since the SEC does not have a tournament, the Gators will join the ALC as well.

The ALC includes lacrosse powerhouses Northwestern - No. 1 in the country with all 20 first-place votes in the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association Poll - No. 13 Ohio State and No. 17 Penn State.

"If we can be competitive within the conference, we're going to be competitive nationally," O'Leary said. "So that's obviously a clear-cut goal of ours, to be competitive within the conference."

O'Leary has high hopes for the team's first season.

"We want to win national championships just like every team on this campus wants to do," O'Leary said. "And we're hoping that it happens sooner rather than later."

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