Going into Florida’s matchup against No. 3 North Carolina, coach Amanda O’Leary declared open season on each of the team’s 15 starting spots.
Every position was up for grabs, and no number of stats, starts or recruiting stars could save players from dropping down the depth chart before the year began.
Sophomore goalkeeper Cara Canington started every game in 2010, helped lead UF to a winning record and had the third-best goal-to-save average in the nation among freshman goalies.
But as her form slipped in practices heading into the No. 17 Gators’ matchup against the Tar Heels on Saturday, fellow sophomore Mikey Meagher began to shine.
Last year’s second-string goalie fixed her form, which previously relegated her to the backup role, and started to compete harder in practice. O’Leary took notice and awarded Meagher her first start in goal.
“It’s what I was waiting for, for a long time,” Meagher said. “I definitely had nerves, but I was also excited at the same time to compete against the best, and it really put me to the test to see what I could handle on this level.”
Canington had to watch the season opener from the sidelines for the first time as a Gator, as Meagher gave up 10 goals and made seven saves during Florida’s overtime loss.
On a team with as much young talent as Florida, O’Leary explained that players are either the hunter or the hunted. Nowhere is this better seen than at the competition between goalkeepers.
“It’s one of those positions where the hot stick is going to be rewarded,” Canington said. “If you’re seeing the ball better that day, you know, it’s whatever’s best for the team.”
Meagher played a little more than 83 minutes of lacrosse last season compared to Canington’s 998 minutes. Even with the substantial gap in experience, it was Meagher who was tabbed in goal against the Tar Heels and on the road tonight at 7:30 against Jacksonville (1-0).
“I felt like Mikey played a great game, and she did a really nice job, but again, they’re competing every single day in practice for who is going to start in the next game,” O’Leary said.
A trip to Jacksonville should do nothing but help Meagher’s résumé in goal. The Gators (0-1) last played JU during an exhibition in Gainesville on Oct. 2, where the home team demolished the Dolphins 23-5.
Florida’s potent offense, led by sophomore Kitty Cullen, should also help Meagher by keeping possession out of JU’s grasp. Cullen, coming off a four-goal game against UNC, contributed four scores in the October matchup with the Dolphins.