After graduating 13 seniors in 2013, the No. 5 Gators (4-1) are quickly working to strengthen their depleted defense.
In the first five games of the season, Florida has yet to show a spectacular defensive effort. However, after being blown out by No. 1 North Carolina (4-0) in their season-opener on Feb. 8, the Gators have worked to establish a more stable defense.
Coach Amanda O’Leary said Monday that the Gators are working to strengthen the defense, and they have made strides toward becoming tougher in defending the cage.
It’s always said that the best offense is a good defense. However, Florida has won its last four games by keeping the offense in control of the ball, letting the defense and midfielders work on causing turnovers and helping goalkeepers senior Cara Canington and sophomore Mary-Sean Wilcox make big saves.
In Florida’s most recent win, a 19-6 blowout against Cincinnati (0-2) on Saturday, the Gators proved that their offense was best at breaking down man-to-man coverage and staying quick on the draw. Though playing well on offense is good for UF now, it could be detrimental when Florida starts to face ranked opponents — such as No. 7 Loyola, which the Gators play next week — if its defense isn’t in line.
“Against James Madison and, actually, Cincinnati as well, our team played really well offensively,” O’Leary said. “Defensively, again, it’s a work in progress. We have a young squad on that defensive end as well.”
Senior Krista Grabher is the only remaining senior defender, with the exception of Canington.
Grabher was named American Lacrosse Conference Player of the Week on Tuesday after helping hold Cincinnati and James Madison to a combined 14 points. In addition, she recorded two ground balls and one draw control.
Grabher said Florida’s current defense and the previous year’s side are much different.
“We have a completely different mindset this year on defense,” Grabher said. “We used to play a very individualistic-type-style defense. Now, with a younger team, we’re able to make it more cohesive, a more team defense.”
With four sophomores and three freshmen, Grabher diligently helped lead and reform the entire defensive end of the team.
However, O’Leary has worked hard in the last few weeks to strengthen the style that allows the Gators to work as a cohesive unit with Canington or Wilcox in the center, telling the defense exactly what to expect next.
“[Goalkeepers] are a huge part of it because they are our eyes,” Grabher said. “They tell us everything that we can’t see.”
Canington has 23 saves this season and posted a season high of 13 against UNC. Wilcox has also been at the top of her game, making a total of 18 saves this season and posting a season high of five against James Madison.
O’Leary has been happy with the efforts by Wilcox and Canington, saying multiple times that both goalkeepers have shown that the Gators can depend upon them.
“We’re solid in the goal cage with Cara and Mary-Sean,” O’Leary said.
“But our defense is showing some real signs of progress.”
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Mary-Sean Wilcox defends a shotduring UF’s win against Cincinnati on Feb. 23 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.