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Friday, April 12, 2024

Injuries have forced Florida to constantly adjust its offense, but a new tactic and growing team chemistry have led the Gators in the right direction recently.

UF (8-4, 1-2 American Lacrosse Conference) started the season without Amanda Wedekind, Rachel Smith, and Hayley Katzenberger, who suffered season-ending injuries during the fall and summer. The strain was then put on the remaining players to carry UF’s offense in its grueling 60-minute games, but after lackluster second halves, a change had to be made.

On March 17 against Marist, UF implemented a midfield substitution into its offense. The Gators are 5-1 since then, and they have garnered the No. 20 spot in the Inside Lacrosse rankings.

This weekend, UF will look to continue its substitution success when it takes on Le Moyne at 4 p.m. Friday and Colgate at noon Sunday, both on the road.

Florida coach Amanda O’Leary began the first substitutions by switching Rachael Zimmerman and Kayla Stolins in for offense and defense, respectively.

She then mixed the combination, substituting Kitty Cullen in with Stolins, and soon had Janine Hillier and Cullen trading off.

The Gators, who had more rested players on both sides of the field and could send offensive plays into the game with the substitutes, flourished under the new system, but injuries would not stay away.

Midfielder-turned-attacker Zimmerman went down with a season-ending torn left ACL during the pre-game warm-up against New Hampshire, and midfielder Julie Schindel’s season ended with a right wrist injury in late March. The two combined for 16 goals and six assists this season.

To offset the losses, O’Leary continued the substitutions and increased the pairs of substitutes.

“We really had no choice,” O’Leary said. “We started out with one, and then decided that we needed to go with two coming off the sidelines. It was something we had thought about, but because of those injuries that we’ve had with Rachael and Julie, we had to do something.”

In addition to substitutions, O’Leary and her players are touting team chemistry as the glue that holds the offense together.

“We’ve really been clicking well,” midfielder Caroline Chesterman said. “It’s been almost a year now, and we’re starting to know what each other’s strengths are, so we play to that. We know when that person is going to drive or cut, and it’s just been working out really well.”

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Hillier added that communication and off-field bonding also help with the offense.

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