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Thursday, April 25, 2024

With only five players boasting collegiate experience last season, Florida’s freshmen didn’t have time for a learning curve.

Through their first two games, the rookies had recorded 88 percent of the Gators' points and had locked up 11 of the team’s 12 starting positions.

There has been a different environment this year for No. 17 UF's newcomers. With 20 second-year Gators on the team, the freshman class have not been needed in the same capacity as it was in 2010.

Only two of the team’s six true freshmen have seen significant playing time through two games, and their offensive impact has been minimal: one goal and one shot late in a blowout win against Jacksonville.

Instead of being counted on for scores and starts, the bulk of them can just focus on being freshmen heading into Florida’s (1-1) third game of the season Sunday against Denver (0-0).

Freshman Krista Grabher has been the exception, as she has received early playing time in both games this season due to illness on the team.

“She came out as if she’d been starting for us for the past two years,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “She did a fantastic job, and I think the freshmen all see that as an opportunity that we aren’t afraid to put a freshman out there to compete.”

Coming out into Gainesville, though, it looked like Grabher would be at a disadvantage.

As one of two Gators who came from a Florida high school (Vero Beach), she says it took a while to get used to the speed and discipline of the collegiate game. Many of the women recruited from lacrosse hotbeds like Maryland or New York were able to play against better competition earlier in their careers.

There has only been organized, state-sanctioned high school women’s lacrosse in Florida for three years.

“It was more my instinct and passion for the game that allows me to play and not be nervous going up against a top-10 team,” Grabher said. “And unlike a lot of the girls from Maryland, I have a lot of friends who live here and family who lives nearby, so it’s nice to have their support.”

Heading into the weekend, Grabher and freshman Courtney Hoyes, who scored her first career goal against JU, will look to get playing time against a Pioneers team that went 13-5 record last season.

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“I was actually really excited and surprised that I got to go in,” Hoyes said. “I knew obviously from the fall when we played Jacksonville that it would be a pretty intense game, even though we beat them by a lot.”

Denver has returned 10 upperclassmen, including four All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation players, on its 2011 roster, but will be facing Florida during its home opener. Last season, the Gators were able to pack in a record crowd of 2,114 into Dizney Stadium.

“The other girls said that we travelled a lot last year, but we have so many home games this year,” Grabher said. “So I’m really excited, because I’ve never played in our stadium for a true game. I think that’s going to help us.”

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